Diver Photographer Snaps Photos of Polar Bears from Within Clawing Distance

submerged polar bear
Nikon D2X + 10.5mm f2.8 fisheye lens; 1/320 sec at f12; ISO 400; Aquatica housing.

Diver Photographer Joe Bunni isn’t one to shy away from risky wildlife photography trips. During one such adventure on a trip to Canada, they ran into the female bear in the famed picture above. He has been shooting polar bears since 2009, but I don’t think anything could have prepared him for such a close encounter. When he submerged himself in the freezing waters of The Nanavut and found himself face to face (we’re talking 20 inches away) from 700lb. bears he did what any sensible man would do: shoot. And he had but a dry-suit, snorkel and mask on, mind you.

polar bear swimming

Bunni stayed at a distance from the animal until it got used to the idea of them being there. He relates how they slowly made their move,

“We cruised at a distance, so we didn’t disturb the bear. Then, once we were sure it was relaxed with our presence, I slipped quietly into the water with just a mask and fins, attached to the boat by a rope. The polar bear now started to swim towards the boat, powering itself with its front legs, the toes of its huge paws spread wide.”

polar bear underwater

The animal ventured closer and closer to Bunni until finally, its nose managed to tap the underwater housing of his camera. Dismayed that the reflection in the housing wasn’t in fact another bear, it quickly backed off and no one was harmed.

polar bear clawing side of boat

Other encounters did not end as peacefully, however. On one occasion, Bunni was inches away from being mauled at sea by a disgruntled polar bear. The skipper of the 21ft steel boat he was on, had barely hoisted him up when the polar bear began to claw and tear at the side of the boat, denting the metal in the process.

polar bear half submerged

His work was cast into the spotlight when that picture of a polar bear half-submerged in the water taken during this memorable trip, won no less than the 2011 Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. The same polar bear that was within clawing distance whose curiosity made for a once-in-a-lifetime shot… and an interesting story!

Help Bunni save the polar bears here.

book polar bear

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Patricia Ramos

Patricia Ramos

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.