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In October 2004 I made a second visit to Baffin Island in Nunavut with some American clients who were making a documentary on polar bears. On the last day of our stay our Inuit guide had scoured the area looking for bears so that the clients could add to the footage they had got on the first day of a mother and 2 cubs swimming beside our boat. We had encountered a number of Bowhead Whales, including two pairs mating on the surface, but it was late in the afternoon and with the light fading we had given hope of finding another bear. Our guide Leslie decided to try one last fjord before calling it a day but as we approached the head of the sheltered inlet we found a sheet of solid sea ice had formed across it. As we idled along the ice edge Leslie spotted a polar bear foraging for food almost a kilometre away, at the threshold between the ice and the land. Although Leslie could see this bear with his naked eye, the rest of us struggled to locate it even with our impressive array of binoculars and telephoto lenses, but when we eventually did it appeared that the bear was heading in our direction. We fully expected that it would very soon become aware of our presence and likely head off in the opposite direction, but instead it just kept coming.

As it drew closer we could tell that it was a good sized young male and that he was only too aware of us. As he approached he was tasting the air with both his nostrils and his tongue, and he was hissing and showing other signs of aggression, clearly intent on making a meal of us. As he drew ever closer to the ice edge we were awestruck by his sheer size and all too apparent power, but when he reached the water's edge he halted in his tracks. We were sitting just offshore in an open 24 foot (8 metre) motorised canoe which suddenly felt very small and precarious. There was just 15 yards/metres of open water between us an the bear - close enough to make all of us in the canoe (with the notable exception of Leslie) suddenly mindful of our own mortality and get our pulses racing, but far enough away for us not to be in any danger it transpired.

Looking into the eyes of one of the most powerful predators on earth standing just yards away was a truly amazing and humbling experience, certainly the most exhilarating of many close encounters with bears in recent years. Although it seemed as though he could reach our canoe with a single bound, it soon became apparent that he realised that by getting into the water he would be at a disadvantage, and that his mind was working overtime trying to come up with a way to get at us. For what seemed like an eternity, but certainly at least 20 minutes, he paced back and forth along the ice edge wrestling with the problem.

In the end he seemed to conclude that if he waited long enough we would be trapped by the encroaching pack ice and he settled into a patient vigil. After 30 minutes, during which the bear had adopted every pose a photographer or film director could wish for, we decided to head for home with 25 minutes of high quality video footage, and literally hundreds of once in a lifetime digital images. Needless to say when Leslie started the outboard and we departed, the bear looked very disappointed indeed, but we felt incredibly blessed to have been granted an audience with Nanuk, the great white bear of the north.


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