Channel 4 has announced The Great Polar Bear Feast, the astonishing story of an annual natural phenomenon that occurs in early September on the north slope of the Arctic.
Every year, up to eighty polar bears gather on the frozen shores of Barter Island, near the village of Kaktovik, to feast on the hunter-harvested bowhead whale remains. This extraordinary gathering is highly unusual not least because polar bears are known as solitary predators, rarely if ever moving in a group.
Kaktovik is a small Inupiat hunting community. Perched on the edge of the world, it’s inaccessible by road and locked in by frozen sea ice for 9 months of the year. But for the month of September, it becomes the centre of polar bear studies as scientists and wildlife photographers flock to the tiny town to observe the bears’ unusual behaviour.
“With more and more polar bears turning up year on year, scientists are determined to find out why this is happening. How do the bears know to come to this remote island and at exactly this time of year? And what is happening to the polar bears of the South Beaufort Sea that is seeing so many of them desert the ice for land? We also witness what happens to the inhabitants of Kaktovik when the whale bones are picked bare, and the huge group of polar bears heads for the town….” – Channel 4
The one-off, hour long, film has access to the work of scientist Todd Atwood, the lead polar bear scientist for the US Geological Survey. He has estimated that there has been a 40% decline in the polar bears around the South Beaufort Sea since 2006. It is an extraordinary decline, and he is determined to find out why.
Each spring he heads out by helicopter to find polar bears and their cubs on the ice, tranquilizes them, assesses their health and fits GPS tracking collars – some with tiny video cameras attached. With the help of this ‘Polar-Cam’ he is able to track the bears through the subsequent months, getting closer to the truth about their extraordinary lives than ever before.
“Through Atwood ‘s work viewers will follow the story of two polar bear mothers, Anyu and Nanook who are faced with an impossible decision as to how to keep themselves and their cubs alive: either stay on the shore and face the threat from humans, or head north on a mammoth journey, following the ice and the prey this provides.” – Channel 4
The film is made by Renegade Pictures for Channel 4 Television.