The BAFTA-award-winning series returns with an Arctic special in search of the world’s largest land carnivore: the polar bear. On a remote peninsula off the east coast of Greenland the Inside Nature’s Giants team join hunters and scientists waiting for polar bears to come in from the sea ice. They brave driving blizzards and freezing seas to find out how the ice bear survives such harsh conditions, where temperatures can plummet to -70º.
For the first time, the Inside Nature’s Giants team joins an international scientific expedition investigating the plight of polar bears in this region. Danish scientists have been monitoring the levels of toxic chemicals found in polar bears for over ten years. On this expedition they need to obtain blood and fresh tissue samples to measure how these contaminants are affecting the bears. Because these animals are at the top of the food chain they are especially vulnerable to physiological side effects from the pollutants. There are early signs of changes to their reproductive organs and neurological damage.
In Greenland Inuit subsistence hunters are allowed to hunt a small quota of bears, but the hunting is strictly controlled to exclude mothers with their cubs. This traditional hunting creates an opportunity for the scientists to collaborate with the hunters to obtain the samples they need. We joined the scientific team to carry out a more extensive anatomical dissection to explore some of the mysteries of the polar bear, such as how they cope with such a high fat diet of seal blubber without risking heart failure.
When veterinary scientist, Mark Evans, has his first encounter with a freshly hunted polar bear, he finds it hard not to be upset, especially when the young hunter refuses to collaborate with the scientists.
Comparative anatomist, Professor Joy Reidenberg, is astonished by the thickness of the polar bear’s fur and even more surprised to discover that its skin is black, its fur translucent and yet the polar bear appears white.
Out on the ice, Simon Watt comes face to face with a 30 cm long walrus penis bone, crawls inside a recently evacuated polar bear den, and traces their remarkable evolutionary story. Polar bears evolved from grizzly bears in the last 150,000 years. But as their habitat melts and their food becomes increasingly contaminated, the polar bears’ future looks increasingly precarious. Can they evolve fast enough to survive this rapidly changing world?