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  • My journey to become a polar specialist,

  • photographing, specializing in the polar regions,

  • began when I was four years old,

  • when my family moved from Southern Canada

  • to Northern Baffin Island, up by Greenland.

  • There we lived with the Inuit

  • in the tiny Inuit community of 200 Inuit people,

  • where [we] were one of three non-Inuit families.

  • And in this community, we didn't have a television;

  • we didn't have computers, obviously, radio.

  • We didn't even have a telephone.

  • All of my time was spent outside

  • with the Inuit, playing.

  • The snow and the ice were my sandbox,

  • and the Inuit were my teachers.

  • And that's where I became

  • truly obsessed with this polar realm.

  • And I knew someday that I was going to do something

  • that had to do with trying to share news about it

  • and protect it.

  • I'd like to share with you, for just two minutes only,

  • some images, a cross-section of my work,

  • to the beautiful music by Brandi Carlile, "Have You Ever."

  • I don't know why National Geographic has done this, they've never done this before,

  • but they're allowing me to show you a few images

  • from a coverage that I've just completed that is not published yet.

  • National Geographic doesn't do this,

  • so I'm very excited to be able to share this with you.

  • And what these images are --

  • you'll see them at the start of the slide show -- there's only about four images --

  • but it's of a little bear that lives in the Great Bear Rainforest.

  • It's pure white, but it's not a polar bear.

  • It's a spirit bear, or a Kermode bear.

  • There are only 200 of these bears left.

  • They're more rare than the panda bear.

  • I sat there on the river for two months without seeing one.

  • I thought, my career's over.

  • I proposed this stupid story to National Geographic.

  • What in the heck was I thinking?

  • So I had two months to sit there

  • and figure out different ways of what I was going to do in my next life,

  • after I was a photographer, because they were going to fire me.

  • Because National Geographic is a magazine; they remind us all the time:

  • they publish pictures, not excuses.

  • (Laughter)

  • And after two months of sitting there --

  • one day, thinking that it was all over,

  • this incredible big white male came down,

  • right beside me, three feet away from me,

  • and he went down and grabbed a fish and went off in the forest and ate it.

  • And then I spent the entire day living my childhood dream

  • of walking around with this bear through the forest.

  • He went through this old-growth forest

  • and sat up beside this 400-year-old culturally modified tree and went to sleep.

  • And I actually got to sleep within three feet of him,

  • just in the forest, and photograph him.

  • So I'm very excited to be able to show you those images

  • and a cross-section of my work that I've done on the polar regions.

  • Please enjoy.

  • (Music)

  • Brandi Carlile: ♫ Have you ever wandered lonely through the woods? ♫

  • And everything there feels just as it should

  • You're part of the life there

  • You're part of something good

  • If you've ever wandered lonely through the woods

  • Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh

  • If you've ever wandered lonely through the woods

  • Have you ever stared into a starry sky? ♫

  • Lying on your back, you're asking why

  • What's the purpose? ♫

  • ♫ I wonder, who am I? ♫

  • If you've ever stared into a starry sky

  • Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh

  • Aah, ah, aah

  • Ah, oh, oh, ah, ah, oh, oh

  • Have you ever stared into a starry sky? ♫

  • Have you ever been out walking in the snow? ♫

  • Tried to get back where you were before

  • You always end up

  • Not knowing where to go

  • If you've ever been out walking in the snow

  • Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh

  • Aah, ah, aah, ah, aah

  • Ah, ah, oh, ah, ah, oh, ah

  • Oh, ah, ah, ah

  • Ah, ah, oh, ah, ah, oh, oh

  • If you'd ever been out walking you would know

  • (Applause)

  • Paul Nicklen: Thank you very much. The show's not over.

  • My clock is ticking. Okay, let's stop.

  • Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

  • We're inundated with news all the time

  • that the sea ice is disappearing

  • and it's at its lowest level.

  • And in fact, scientists were originally saying

  • sea ice is going to disappear in the next hundred years, then they said 50 years.

  • Now they're saying the sea ice in the Arctic,

  • the summertime extent is going to be gone in the next four to 10 years.

  • And what does that mean?

  • After a while of reading this in the news, it just becomes news.

  • You glaze over with it.

  • And what I'm trying to do with my work is put faces to this.

  • And I want people to understand and get the concept

  • that, if we lose ice,

  • we stand to lose an entire ecosystem.

  • Projections are that we could lose polar bears; they could become extinct

  • in the next 50 to 100 years.

  • And there's no better, sexier,

  • more beautiful, charismatic megafauna species

  • for me to hang my campaign on.

  • Polar bears are amazing hunters.

  • This was a bear I sat with for a while on the shores.

  • There was no ice around.

  • But this glacier caved into the water and a seal got on it.

  • And this bear swam out to that seal --

  • 800 lb. bearded seal --

  • grabbed it, swam back and ate it.

  • And he was so full, he was so happy and so fat eating this seal,

  • that, as I approached him --

  • about 20 feet away -- to get this picture,

  • his only defense was to keep eating more seal.

  • And as he ate, he was so full --

  • he probably had about 200 lbs of meat in his belly --

  • and as he ate inside one side of his mouth,

  • he was regurgitating out the other side of his mouth.

  • So as long as these bears have any bit of ice they will survive,

  • but it's the ice that's disappearing.

  • We're finding more and more dead bears in the Arctic.

  • When I worked on polar bears as a biologist 20 years ago,

  • we never found dead bears.

  • And in the last four or five years,

  • we're finding dead bears popping up all over the place.

  • We're seeing them in the Beaufort Sea,

  • floating in the open ocean where the ice has melted out.

  • I found a couple in Norway last year. We're seeing them on the ice.

  • These bears are already showing signs

  • of the stress of disappearing ice.

  • Here's a mother and her two year-old cub

  • were traveling on a ship a hundred miles offshore in the middle of nowhere,

  • and they're riding on this big piece of glacier ice,

  • which is great for them; they're safe at this point.

  • They're not going to die of hypothermia.

  • They're going to get to land.

  • But unfortunately, 95 percent of the glaciers in the Arctic

  • are also receding right now

  • to the point that the ice is ending up on land

  • and not injecting any ice back into the ecosystem.

  • These ringed seals, these are the "fatsicles" of the Arctic.

  • These little, fat dumplings,

  • 150-pound bundles of blubber

  • are the mainstay of the polar bear.

  • And they're not like the harbor seals that you have here.

  • These ringed seals also live out their entire life cycle

  • associated and connected to sea ice.

  • They give birth inside the ice,

  • and they feed on the Arctic cod that live under the ice.

  • And here's a picture of sick ice.

  • This is a piece of multi-year ice that's 12 years old.

  • And what scientists didn't predict is that, as this ice melts,

  • these big pockets of black water are forming

  • and they're grabbing the sun's energy

  • and accelerating the melting process.

  • And here we are diving in the Beaufort Sea.

  • The visibility's 600 ft.; we're on our safety lines;

  • the ice is moving all over the place.

  • I wish I could spend half an hour telling you

  • about how we almost died on this dive.

  • But what's important in this picture is that you have a piece of multi-year ice,

  • that big chunk of ice up in the corner.

  • In that one single piece of ice,

  • you have 300 species of microorganisms.

  • And in the spring, when the sun returns to the ice,

  • it forms the phytoplankton, grows under that ice,

  • and then you get bigger sheets of seaweed,

  • and then you get the zoo plankton feeding on all that life.

  • So really what the ice does

  • is it acts like a garden.

  • It acts like the soil in a garden. It's an inverted garden.

  • Losing that ice is like losing the soil in a garden.

  • Here's me in my office.

  • I hope you appreciate yours.

  • This is after an hour under the ice.

  • I can't feel my lips; my face is frozen;

  • I can't feel my hands; I can't feel my feet.

  • And I've come up, and all I wanted to do was get out of the water.

  • After an hour in these conditions,

  • it's so extreme that, when I go down,

  • almost every dive I vomit into my regulator

  • because my body can't deal with the stress of the cold on my head.

  • And so I'm just so happy that the dive is over.

  • I get to hand my camera to my assistant,

  • and I'm looking up at him, and I'm going, "Woo. Woo. Woo."

  • Which means, "Take my camera."

  • And he thinks I'm saying, "Take my picture."

  • So we had this little communication breakdown.

  • (Laughter)

  • But it's worth it.

  • I'm going to show you pictures of beluga whales, bowhead whales,

  • and narwhals, and polar bears, and leopard seals today,

  • but this picture right here means more to me than any other I've ever made.

  • I dropped down in this ice hole, just through that hole that you just saw,

  • and I looked up under the underside of the ice,

  • and I was dizzy; I thought I had vertigo.

  • I got very nervous -- no rope, no safety line,

  • the whole world is moving around me --

  • and I thought, "I'm in trouble."

  • But what happened is that the entire underside

  • was full of these billions of amphipods and copepods

  • moving around and feeding on the underside of the ice,

  • giving birth and living out their entire life cycle.

  • This is the foundation of the whole food chain in the Arctic, right here.

  • And when you have low productivity in this, in ice,

  • the productivity in copepods go down.

  • This is a bowhead whale.

  • Supposedly, science is stating

  • that it could be the oldest living animal on earth right now.

  • This very whale right here could be over 250 years old.

  • This whale could have been born

  • around the start of the Industrial Revolution.

  • It could have survived 150 years of whaling.

  • And now its biggest threat is the disappearance of ice in the North

  • because of the lives that we're leading in the South.

  • Narwhals, these majestic narwhals

  • with their eight-foot long ivory tusks, don't have to be here;

  • they could be out on the open water.

  • But they're forcing themselves to come up in these tiny little ice holes

  • where they can breathe, catch a breath,

  • because right under that ice are all the swarms of cod.

  • And the cod are there

  • because they are feeding on all the copepods and amphipods.

  • Alright, my favorite part.

  • When I'm on my deathbed,

  • I'm going to remember one story more than any other.

  • Even though that spirit bear moment was powerful,

  • I don't think I'll ever have another experience

  • like I did with these leopard seals.

  • Leopard seals, since the time of Shackleton, have had a bad reputation.

  • They've got that wryly smile on their mouth.

  • They've got those black sinister eyes

  • and those spots on their body.

  • They look positively prehistoric and a bit scary.

  • And tragically in [2003],

  • a scientist was taken down and drowned,

  • and she was being consumed by a leopard seal.

  • And people were like, "We knew they were vicious. We knew they were."

  • And so people love to form their opinions.

  • And that's when I got a story idea:

  • I want to go to Antarctica,

  • get in the water with as many leopard seals as I possibly can

  • and give them a fair shake --

  • find out if they really are these vicious animals, or if they're misunderstood.