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Our very own Arctic aficionado Paul Goldstein reviews the second episode of the ground-breaking BBC series The Hunt.
“At this time of year the window of opportunity is brief” were the venerable one’s opening words yesterday evening. Thank you BBC for leaving that window wide open, this was a truly remarkable episode.
It is enthralling to see just how much further the natural history unit has progressed since the ground-breaking Plant Earth six years ago.
For any filmmaker or photographer, the money shot contains hunter and quarry. Watching predators feeding on prey is interesting but little more, the target needs to still have a pulse.
The bear’s strategic planning followed by an amphibious attack on the seals was pretty much as good as it gets, despite losing its co-ordinates more than once! I question the childish music which I thought last week they had grown out of, particularly as this is shown after nine and was concerning a hunt to the death, but this is a tiny criticism.
I have seen bears hunting here in Spitsbergen but never anything close to this, it was off the scale. One of the most poignant moments from Planet Earth was the bear picking its way over a fractured ice field before taking on a hopelessly large walrus, a bout that was to prove mortal for the unfortunate bear.
This tragic sequence has remained with me and I thought I was going to see a repeat last night but The Hunt proved otherwise. I needed convalescence after that first icy salvo but none was offered.
A quick Atlantic crossing from Spitsbergen took me breathlessly to the wolves. The initial sequence was magnificent: three wolves dancing across a sparkling mosaic of sea ice grouted to a shimmering jade surface.
For anyone who may have struggled in Yosemite to see a distant lupine predator, this was the moment to fill the boots, as these coursing harriers quartered the Arctic hares across the tundra after spooking them from their lairs.
However, it was not one-way traffic as the fleet-footed hare frequently looked like an Australian wing three quarter against a lumbering British forward (still bitter!). Money shot: although no-one really needs telling, was the skyline chase.
Every time we charter ships to Spitsbergen, we concentrate on the signature dishes: Polar bears, Arctic foxes, walrus, huge bird colonies and sea ice. This is what I loved about last night’s episode – it did not waste time on interesting but frankly second rate ‘filler’ shots and species.
Before long it was back to the Ursus Maritimus with the camera catching the most sensational low angles and mystical light that only this place can deliver. Then it was time for the already oft-trailered moment of the bearded seal capture.
Initially, the bearded ones had a few close shaves, and whilst these were remarkable for us to watch, it is cold comfort to the bear. But finally, this sinister leviathan exploded out of the water virtually on top of the seal.
Cue a frozen pause and then a momentous end game as the Polar bear dragged the carcass up onto the pristine surface. 10/10 – perhaps the best Arctic moment I have seen on the screen.
“In 24-hour daylight, the animals feed around the clock”. Many times I recall scanning white canvas searching for an ivory blob at ridiculous hours of the morning – this constant daylight rewards filmmakers and holidaymakers alike.
Those huge flocks of auks’ numbers would barely be grazed by the Arctic fox attacks but the airborne assaults were again ground-breaking sequences. Likewise, the guillemot chicks’ flying baptisms with their parental co-pilots.
Only the next episodes will let on if we have already been given too generous a slice of the faunal pie, as there were no moments for introspection last night. The mountaineering bear was perhaps the most startling and poignant moment of them all. This animal was risking its life, time and time again for an absurdly miserly return.
It is a ridiculous return on energy invested for an animal that really should be on ice. I have seen this once and it is still the most remarkable sight I have witnessed in nature.
When you have subjects constantly hungry like wolves, their appetites are as rapacious as their admiring viewers. The pack upped their paygrade putting something more substantial in the larder, adding a huge dish on their ‘musk do’ list!
Initially, they were thwarted, the oxen forming an impregnable barrier not dissimilar to Wellington’s squares neutering Napoleon’s infantry at Waterloo. However, the final attack on the bull was savage in its intensity, particularly when you consider the difference in size.
Actually, the whole episode was intense and it didn’t let up when we were told of the wheezes and ruses behind the success of the show. Getting stranded on that ice is no picnic and although they may have sounded gung ho, I applaud this team as their euphoria from capturing unique footage forgives any excesses.
Jason Roberts (the location manager) is an old pal and I immediately rang him to offer my congratulations. He replied, telling me he was doing something in Antarctica now: “I prefer bears to penguins” was his terse missive – seeing last night’s showdown, I am not surprised. I can’t wait to get back there next year.
All Polar bear images use in the article were taken by Paul on our previous Photographic Charters in Spitsbergen.
Take a look at our trips to Spitsbergen below and plan your own Arctic wildlife adventure.