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When we think of polar bears in their natural element, we tend to think of them in arctic climes, surrounded by snow and ice. While it’s true that polar bears can only thrive as a species in icy regions, they do enjoy taking a break from the freezing cold when summer comes.
Recently, wildlife photographer Dennis Fast took some extraordinary photos of polar bears enjoying a summer getaway on an offshore island in Hudson Bay. The big white bears were caught frolicking and lounging in a vibrant field of firewood flowers.
“When polar bears come ashore off Hudson Bay in June or July, after a winter on the ice, they are looking for places to spend the summer,” Fast told TODAY. “During that time they loaf a lot, eat very little if anything at all, and simply ‘chill out’ in the heat.”
Fast, a retired educator living in Manitoba, Canada, has dedicated his post-retirement life to documenting wildlife. Years ago, while working as a polar bear guide for the arctic safari organization, Churchill Wild, Fast heard about a group of the bears playing in the field. Right then and there Fast decided he had to document them someday.
“It took several years of logistical planning to get a camp set up on the small island with proper protection for ourselves,” Fast said. “But eventually it happened.”
Fast snapped some amazing close-ups of the giant creatures — a feat that “demands a lot of protection.” His camp was surrounded by a temporary chain link fence with an additional perimeter fence outside of the chain link consisting of five strands of electric wire.
But polar bears are “extremely inquisitive,” noted Fast. A bear will almost always approach when they spot or smell a human nearby. That sounds pretty terrifying, but after awhile, the bears get used to the people.
“Once the bears are used to us, it becomes relatively safe to walk about at a respectful distance without alarming the bears or having them pay too much attention to us,” Fast said. “We don’t approach closer than 50 meters, but sometimes the bears don’t follow our rules!”
Spending time up close and personal with polar bears granted Fast rare insight into the behavior of these beautiful, endangered creatures. Despite being powerful predators, Fast found them to have a calm, almost inviting demeanor.
“It is important to watch their body language at all times,” Fast said. “Having said that, they are also extremely playful and can wrestle for hours without paying you much attention when relaxed. When that happens, you begin to feel the understated power and majesty of the animals. Such moments can be breathtaking and humbling.”
Fast has photographed polar bears in all seasons in an effort to inspire people to “appreciate them, their habitat, and their changing resources.” He’s published two photography books on polar bears, “Touch the Arctic,” and “Princess,” which is aimed at young readers.
“I try to capture the majesty of the bears and the beautiful fragility of their environment,” Fast said. “It would be a real shame to lose such an iconic animal.”