I want to wish you a happy Earth Day and take a moment to celebrate all that makes our planet worth the fight to protect its future. While I love my job, working on the front lines of conservation can certainly take a toll on your mental well-being. After decades of photographing some of the biggest atrocities happening to our planet- warming seas, overfishing, the abuse of wild animals, whale entanglements, and plastic pollution- the pressure can start to creep in. The fight to protect nature can sometimes seem hopeless, especially as divides between people grow deeper and no one seems to notice the climate alarm blaring code red.
When I find myself getting down over the doomsday headlines and lack of global action, it is time to press pause and return to the sanctity of nature. Everyone needs to recharge, and immersing myself in the natural world is how I keep my hope alive. Called to the frozen wilds of the far North, I find solace in the ancient rhythms that dictate life across the Arctic. There is something about those early days before spring, when life first begins to stir beneath the snow, that rouses a sense of hope for the future. And what could be more hopeful than watching mother polar bears emerge from their dens with their newborn cubs in tow?
Determined to witness for myself that moment when a mama bear leads her little family into the world for the first time, I headed to Manitoba, Canada in the early days of February. I had spent a good portion of my life observing polar bears across Manitoba and Nunavut, and it was an incredibly nostalgic experience to be back beneath the Arctic sky. I ventured out with a local group of guides to quietly observe den sites. After days of freezing in the snow, our patience was rewarded when a mother bear finally poked her head out of her cozy lair. Tucked beneath her was a pair of cubs, only weeks old, taking in their brand-new surroundings from between the safety of mom’s powerful front paws. The mother had a patient, nurturing presence, and her calm expression reflected years of hard-won wisdom. She rested on a snowdrift with her family and contentedly soaked in the soft light.
The polar bears around the Hudson Bay are unique from other bear populations, particularly when it comes to denning and birthing cubs. Pregnant mothers will usually leave the ice in the late summer and begin the process of carefully selecting a den. Once they are satisfied with their designated lair, they hunker down for the colder months. During this time, they will fast and drastically reduce their activity to conserve energy. Mother bears will go an astonishing eight months without a meal until they can hunt seals again. They give birth in the heart of winter and nurse their hairless newborns on some of the richest milk in the world until it is time to emerge. Once their cubs are strong enough, the mothers must lead them safely to the sea ice to gorge on seals and replenish lost calories.
Even as I am writing this from the middle of the Pacific with my SeaLegacy crew, my thoughts keep returning to the mama bear from that cold winter’s afternoon. She looked healthy, but I know that the area’s bear population has not been faring well in recent years. Their numbers have declined by about 24%, and researchers are growing concerned about their future. I hope she is eating well and raising her cubs to be wise bears like her. They will need her wisdom and strength to navigate a warming world. In the meantime, let’s keep fighting to solve the climate emergency and protect our fragile polar regions. I hope you will join me for this year’s Earth Day in celebrating our planet and investing in its future.
Thank you for staying in this fight with me.
Happy Earth Day,