Polar Bears at Kaktovik, Barrow Island on Alaska's North Slope, October 2017
Dozens of Polar bears gather in the late autumn near this native Inupiat village for a number of reasons. The ice freezes here first once winter sets in due to freshwater coming in from local rivers. This allows the bears earlier access to a good local population of Ringed Seals, their favourite prey. Additionally the local Inupiats "harvest" a number of Bowhead Whales each year, and after taking the best parts for their own consumption, discard the remainder onto a "bone pile". This is an activity I find disturbing in the extreme, but for the Polar Bears it is a major attractant - lots of food available in what is normally their most difficult season. There was no snow this year, making the bears rather grubby, coated with whale oil and dirt - once the snow comes they will roll in it to clean themselves up. However, bear viewing from a small boat is superb, lots of bears, many mothers with cubs. and from the boat the viewing angle is ideal for photography.
Getting to, and staying in, this part of the world is not without its challenges! Freezing rain aborted our flight from Fairbanks on the planned first day. The local airline Ravn Air, citing full bookings on the following days, offered us flights four days later, which would have meant us arriving just in time to return home! Fortunately our resourceful guide Greg Ferguson managed to arrange a charter flight the following day, and although this was at extra cost, it was well worth it. Accomodation in Kaktovik can be described as rudimentary!
My thanks to Greg for guiding us superbly, WildPhoto Safaris for organising the trip, and to local operators Jack Kayotuk and Steven Kazlowski.