British Columbia professional photographer Daisy Gilardini waited 117 hours to capture a unique moment between a polar bear and her cubs near Churchill, Man.

Her photos, taken last February at Wapusk National Park in northern Manitoba, were shared widely in Europe, she said. They are now making the rounds in Canada and have garnered an honourable mention in the 2015 Global Arctic Awards photography competition.


A polar bear mother exits a day den in Wapusk National Park with a cub trying to catch a ride on her bum. (Daisy Gilardini)

"You really need to be patient. You never know if you're going to see the bears or not," said Gilardini.

"They know you're there. Even if they are in the den, they can smell the fuel, they can smell us."

The photographer specializes in the polar regions and her work has appeared on BBC and in National Geographic Magazine. She has been to Wapusk National Park four times since 2008 and is planning a fifth trip to northern Manitoba for late February.

Gilardini heads to the northern habitat near Churchill during the cold months of February, when temperatures often plunge past –40 C.

It's a special time, she said, because polar bear cubs and their mothers are leaving their dens for the first time, facing cold winds in search of newborn seals.


B.C. photographer Daisy Gilardini says she waits hours in frigid temperatures for polar bears to exit their dens. (© Daisy Gilardini)

"They know this time of year there is easy food for them on the pack ice," said Gilardini. "It's the first time the babies come out of the dens so they're very curious, they're playful."

Gilardini does most of her work in the Arctic and in Antarctica.

"I just love the cold, I guess," she joked.

Manitoba is home to one of the most accessible regions polar bears inhabit, she added.

"It's the southernmost place in the world where polar bears den," she said.


Gilardini stays at least 100 metres from the bears for her photography. She says even from that distance the mother bears can smell her, but Gilardini has never seen signs of aggression. (© Daisy Gilardini)

Most of her photographs are taken quite far from the polar bears, using large lenses, Gilardini said, adding that by law, photographers have to stay at least 100 metres away.

"The national park is pretty strict with how close you can get to them," she said.


Daisy Gilardini in a self-portrait taken near Churchill, Man., in February 2015. She says she plans to return to the park next month to take more photos of polar bears and their cubs. (Daisy Gilardini)