I will never forget the first time I saw a wild polar bear. An absolutely ancient bear that the locals had dubbed “Old Pete.” Pete had already exceeded the average life expectancy for a polar bear by nearly 25% and had the literal battle scars to prove it.
As this was my first trip to Churchill I had never seen a young or healthy polar bear, so I had no frame of reference to compare him to, but through the frailty of his withering body shone a power and grace that will echo in my mind forever.
Decades of survival in the harshest place on planet earth. Every minute of life had been a fight, and this bear was undefeated. You could see the experience in his face, and practically read the stories of his conquests.
Old Pete wasn’t much longer for this world (he passed on only a few weeks after I took this photo), but we didn’t feel sadness for him. He had worked hard. He had earned his rest. Walking the frozen tundra beside him was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had, and to this day I view it as a pivotal moment in my photography career.
This was the moment I truly learned that wildlife photography isn’t about taking a “nice” photo of an animal; it’s about telling their story, capturing the essence of their life, and preserving that for others to experience.
Read more about Pete here: Old Warrior takes final walk at Seal River