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Duration: 50 minutes

Shot mainly using spy cameras, this film gets closer than ever before to the world's greatest land predator.

Icebergcam, Blizzardcam and Snowballcam are a new generation of covert devices on a mission to explore the Arctic islands of Svalbard in Norway. Backed up by Snowcam and Driftcam, these state-of-the-art camouflaged cameras reveal the extraordinary curiosity and intelligence of the polar bear.

The cameras are just a breath away when two sets of cubs emerge from winter maternity dens. They also capture the moment when the sea-ice breaks away from the island in the spring. As one set of mother and cubs journey across the drifting ice in search of seals, the other is marooned on the island with very little food. How they cope with their different fates is captured in revelatory close-up detail.

The cameras also follow the bears as they hunt seals, raid bird colonies, dive for kelp and indulge in entertaining courtship rituals. Icebergcam even discovers their little-known social nature as seven bears share a washed-up whale carcass.

Often just a paw's swipe from the play-fighting and squabbling bears, the spy cameras face their most challenging subject yet. When their curious subjects discover the cameras, they are subjected to some comical-but-destructive encounters.

As the film captures its intimate portrait of polar bears' lives, it reveals how their intelligence and curiosity help them cope in a world of shrinking ice.

Last on

New Year's Day 2014 11:55 BBC One

  • Snowball Cam

    Snowball Cam

    The polar bear's investigative and often destructive nature required a device that was polar bear proof. Snowball cam was the solution. Its large spherical shape prevented bears from getting a firm bite or hold. Its tough reinforced shell protected it from most polar bear encounters making it perfect for front line filming. Snowball Cam has no visible moving parts but was able to roll across most terrains, even up hill. It could also film on the roll thanks to a self-leveling high definition camera. Having the ability to dock and undock from Blizzard Cam was essential for safe and effective deployment into the thick of the action.

  • Drift Cam

    Drift Cam

    Drift Cams were specifically designed to film autonomously without the need for a camera crew. Drift Cams are triggered by detecting infrared heat. Their sensitivity could detect a polar bear from a distance of 50 metres. Once deployed, they can remain in standby for up to a week, even at minus 30. This proved crucial for filming mother and cubs emerging from their maternity dens. Each Drift Cam was fitted with a solar powered satellite phone that alerted the crew every time it was triggered. Drift Cams made it possible to capture the emergence even when the crew was snowed in by severe blizzards.

  • Blizzard Cam

    Blizzard Cam

    Designed to operate in extreme arctic environments ranging from the perilous sea ice, frozen glacial fjords and treacherous snow covered mountains. Speed and stealth was achieved by its two powerful electric motors that quietly propel it on skis to 40 mph.

    Blizzard Cam’s robust camera turret was designed to resist temperatures below minus 30 degrees C. The onboard high definition camera was remotely operated over a distance of 1 km. The very real threat of attack from polar bears was thwarted by an onboard decoy device "Snowball Cam". This could be deployed remotely from Blizzard Cam for front line camera operations, allowing the more vulnerable Blizzard Cam to retreat from dangerous situations.

  • Iceberg Cam

    Iceberg Cam

    For the bears on the sea ice, a very different spycam was needed. Iceberg Cam was designed to blend seamlessly amongst the ice flows. It’s powerful thrusters produced enough speed to keep up with swimming bears. Iceberg Cam was decked out with two cameras for above and below water filming. This remarkable spycam captured revelatory footage of hunting and scavenging polar bears in breathtaking detail never before seen.

  • Wildlife Finder

    Wildlife Finder

    Thousands of world-class natural history videos from BBC programmes.

    Watch polar bears in action
  • An adult polar bear

    An adult polar bear

  • An adult polar bear takes a dip

    An adult polar bear takes a dip

  • A polar bear cub

    A polar bear cub

  • Polar bear mother and her two cubs

    Polar bear mother and her two cubs

Credits

Narrator
David Tennant
Producer
Philip Dalton
Director
John Downer

Broadcasts

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