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Canon Ambassador Brutus Östling joins WWF polar bear survey

Canon Ambassador Brutus Östling joins WWF polar bear survey

© Brutus Östling

April 2014

Canon Ambassador Brutus Östling is preparing to join the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on a scientific expedition that sets off on 11 April 2014 to collect critical data about Europe’s most westerly polar bear population.

© Brutus Östling

Bearded seal in black & white. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF600mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/400sec at f/5.0, ISO 1000.

The population on and around the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard is facing a future without summer sea ice and a recently published research paper suggests the area will be ice-free in summer by 2050. It’s a worrying situation and there is a great deal of concern and uncertainly over the future of this particularly fragile Arctic ecosystem.

Speaking to CPN about the mission’s primary objective – polar bears – Brutus Östling remarked: “I last went to Svalbard to see them in 2012 and I’m interested to see if the ice has melted further. The polar bears used to be able to come out on the ice, but it's more difficult now. They have to wait much longer on land, so they spend more time resting so as to not use up important energy. They are beautiful and intelligent animals, but not to be underestimated. When they are hungry, or when the mothers are with their cubs, they are very protective and so you have to be extremely careful and approach them with a lot of caution.”

Lead scientist on the expedition, Geoff York, explained: “We don’t know what the future holds for these bears. We do know that bear populations deprived of sea ice for significant amounts of time are less likely to survive or breed successfully.”

The research team is on the lookout for polar bear ‘dens’ on the islands, where females go to give birth. There is some evidence that the population is moving away from traditional sites, and the movement may well be linked to changes in sea ice. It is not clear where new sites may be, but there is reason to believe they may be on islands further to the east where the ice stays longer.

© Brutus Östling

Walrus at sea. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF600mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/400sec at f/5.0, ISO 800.

Brutus continued: “I will be away for 13 days, taking photographs of wildlife and the landscape from the research ship ‘RV Lance’, which is owned by the Norwegian Polar Institute. I will also be documenting the work of the scientists as they collar the polar bears. It’s very hard to get to these areas normally and you cannot access by snowmobile so we will be flying in by helicopter to the ice and then walking to the dens. It will be very interesting to spend nearly two weeks as part of the team. Normally I work alone for long periods of time so this will be a nice change for me but it will be intense work.”

The NPI researchers on the expedition will place satellite collars on bears to enable tracking their routes over the next year or so. Comparing the bears’ positions to satellite information about the sea ice will help explain the bears’ response to ice conditions, and help project likely future adaptations. Four of the bears collared this year will be trackable on WWF’s polar bear tracker as soon as the collars are activated, allowing people around the world to follow them.

On his preparation for the trip, Brutus will be taking two EOS-1D X DSLR bodies and a selection of lenses, including 8-15mm, 16-35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 200-400mm and 600mm optics. “I’m still packing and deciding what to actually take but from experience the 600mm lens is the one I will probably use the most, although I love the 200-400mm lens and how I can go right up to 560mm with the 2x Extender engaged. I will also pack extra batteries too as in the cold conditions and on the ice, away from the ship, you can’t be caught out without power.”

© Brutus Östling

Bird’s eye view from Brutus’ last trip in 2012. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens; the exposure was 1/100sec at f/13, ISO 250.

Brutus has learned from experience to prepare well for his trips, and makes sure that his cold weather clothing has plenty of pockets for lenses and batteries. “The batteries are always the most important thing, so they have to be kept warm to avoid discharging too fast outside. The cameras and lenses perform fantastic at very low temperatures, though. I’ve never had any problem with them at all. You just have to allow them time to get used to temperature changes when coming in from the cold.”

“I think this will be one of my most important trips in terms of reporting on the scientific work,” he predicts. “I hope my pictures will inspire people to take climate change seriously and realise how beautiful this world is. The polar bears are living life on the edge – but I think it’s not too late if we can work it out.”

About the expedition

The expedition is sponsored by Canon Europe, the Conservation Imaging Partner of WWF International. Canon has a long-standing partnership with WWF that goes back over 16 years, using imaging expertise to help WWF record and promote awareness of the state of the environment and climate change. It is supplying photographic equipment for this project and sponsoring Canon Ambassador, Brutus Östling, to capture images of the wildlife encountered along the way.

To find out more on the expedition and to follow the team’s progress, visit the project website here. We will be reporting on the project and looking at how Brutus fared in a future technical article on CPN.

Biographie: Brutus Östling

Brutus Östling

Swedish wildlife photographer and Canon Ambassador Brutus Östling set up a book publishing company in 1981 but changed his career to go behind the lens in 2005. Since then he has produced a number of best-selling wildlife books and in 2006 was named Sweden’s ‘Nature Photographer of the Year’. He became ‘Scandinavian Nature Photographer in 2007-2008’.


Polar bear without ice. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF600mm f/4L IS II USM lens and EF1.4x III Extender (equivalent focal length 840mm); the exposure was 1/6400sec at f/6.3, ISO 2000.