In this photo a pair of polar bears spar during a snow storm in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. To make the image, I hired an experienced boat captain in Kaktovik, Alaska to take me out to barrier islands where polar bears gather in late fall, waiting for the sea ice to form so they can hunt seals during the winter. I made the trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in early October 2013 to research future photography tours.
The bears in the image are most likely two year old siblings and are just playing, with no intent of seriously injuring each other. This playful pair of siblings often teased each other and sparred throughout my visit to ANWR, and also were observed tossing around sticks, rolling in the snow, spent lots of time sleeping, and also walked the island shores eating sea weed – not a traditional food for polar bears but these bears were extremely hungry with the sea ice coming in so late this year. These two bears played next to, and spent the nights with, an adult sow (female) bear, presumably their mother. Given the size of adult female bears and the fact that these two were roughly the size of the adult, a rough estimate of their weight puts them somewhere in the range of 330-650 lbs. and 6-8 feet (1.8-2.4 m) in length according to livescience.com and pbs.com.
Why photograph polar bears? First, the fact that they are the world’s largest land carnivore and the only bear that will stalk and hunt humans for food, inspires respect. Also as a trained artist with a background in painting, I have developed a love for minimalism in art which carries over into my nature photography. Even these huge, ferocious animals are dwarfed in the vast white snow fields on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. Learning how to reliably photograph polar bears was also a business decision as they capture the imaginations of many photographers around the world. I make my living taking other photographers into the Arctic, helping them stay safe and comfortable, and making sure they capture as many stunning images as possible in the time they have. – Matthew Studebaker
To see more of Studebaker’s work, visit www.studebakerbirds.com. Follow him on Facebook, Flickr and 500px. He offers several workshops and photo tours to Alaska and elsewhere which can be found here.