Polar Bear: Spy On The Ice

Clever camerawork captures endangered polar bears on their trek across the Arctic tundra


Innovative wildlife filmmaker John Downer uses covert digital technology to bring human audiences astonishingly close to the most reclusive wild animals. With elephants and tigers as previous subjects, Downer’s latest offering is focused on the beautiful but endangered maritime species in Polar Bear: Spy On The Ice.

Downer employs three types of cameras to track the lives of two mother bears as they lead their clubs across Arctic Norway in search of seal hunting grounds for the den’s survival. Not letting any of the frozen conditions get in the way of filming, the three cameras each offered a unique way of capturing the bears. The Snow-cam, disguised as a lump of snow, was equipped with four-wheel drive and tundra wheels to get across land and ice. The Blizzard-cam is rigged with propellers, allowing it to reach speeds of 37 mph, while the Iceberg cam was thoroughly waterproofed to maneuver between sheets of ice and under water to capture the polar bears swimming under the ice.


The cameras didn’t always blend into the Arctic’s barren environment though, and late last year an adult male polar bear smelled a ruse, discovered he was on candid camera, and destroyed more than $200,000 worth of equipment with his mighty paw. Fortunately secondary cameras caught the entire act, showing the bear’s impressive cunning and stupendous strength.


As the Arctic ice recedes the show offers a glimpse into a disappearing world that scientists fear could be lost forever this century. The one-hour special has already aired on BBC but will premiere stateside this week on Discovery’s Animal Planet at 10pm (EST) Thursday, 10 March 2011.