Polar bear pics win prize, headed to Smithsonian

Polar bears will be on display at the Smithsonian for the next year after a Vancouver photographer received the Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards Grand Prize.

Photographer braves bone-chilling temperatures to capture award-winning photos

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      Polar bears will be on display at the Smithsonian for the next year after a Vancouver photographer received the Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards Grand Prize. 

      Daisy Gilardini's photos from Wapusk National Park in Manitoba were selected from more than 20,000 entries from photographers in 51 countries. 

      One of the pictures shows a female polar bear cradling her cub with her head tilted upside down and another cub poking its head out over top of her shoulder.

      "It's a very tender moment between the mama and the two cubs. They're cuddling really in a tender, tender way," Gilardini said Tuesday from Toronto. "It's a very, very intimate portrayal of a family. Very touching, I think."

      The photo set was captured earlier this year on Gilardini's fifth trip to Wapusk National Park.

      "Every year in February or March the bears are coming out of the den and you can go and photograph them. It's not easy, but there is the possibility," she said. "This year, out of 14 days, we had maybe three good encounters."

      A "good encounter" can last four or five hours in temperatures hovering around -50 C.

      "You're not shooting from Tundra Buggies. You're on the ground with them. It's kind of freezing cold," she said. 

      Gilardini said the bears seem to tolerate the photographers' presence. About 20 go up on the exhibitions, some from Canadian Geographic and others from networks like the BBC.

      "They absolutely know you're there. They're totally aware … They hear the vehicle coming. They can smell you from far away, but they're not afraid of you," she said. "You must be afraid of them."

      Gilardini makes the trek to the tundra every year to shine a light on climate change issues and highlight the importance of conserving the bears' habitat. 

      Her photos will be on exhibit at the Smithsonian until September 2017.

      B.C. photographer Daisy Gilardini captures playful polar bears in Wapusk National Park 1:20