Bears of the Last Frontier
Ask Chris and Joe

header-askchrisjoe
Ecologist and bear biologist Chris Morgan or filmmaker Joe Pontecorvo answer your questions about bears and the making of Bears of the Last Frontier. Have a question not addressed below? Chris answered a lot of your questions during the live webcasts following the Bears of the Last Frontier premiere. Watch the chats.

On making the film:

Question

I am an Alaskan who aspires to become a wildlife filmmaker and I have a two-parted question. Firstly, what advice would you offer regarding breaking into the wildlife film industry? And secondly, one of my dreams is to someday film a series showcasing wildlife and ecosystems in my home state; what kind of state permit systems and regulations did you guys come up against while working on your three-part series? Thanks! -Wilson

Answer

Alaska is a great location for wildlife photography. My own experience breaking into wildlife filmmaking started locally working as a cameraman here in Seattle with some great local producers that I really learned a lot from. If you are filming professionally you need to get a permit to film in national parks, or on BLM land. I hope this is helpful. -Joe

 

Question

How did you get the underwater shots of the salmon and bears ?

Answer

The underwater shots were captured with a small HD POV (Point of View Camera) on a long pole. I was able to watch the image on a small field monitor attached to the end of the pole. Thanks for your question. -Joe

 

Question

As a amateur photographer I had to watch this twice because I was stunned by the quality of the film or video. Was this shot in film or HD video and what brand/model cameras were used? Does the DVD show how the production was made or the detail of some shots? -Michael

Answer

Thanks so much for your comments. The show was shot on HD Video using a Sony PDW-700 XDCAM HD. My primary lens was a Canon 28-500mm HD lens, a really great pice of glass. But the real credit goes to Alaska’s breathtaking landscapes and long summer days. I’m not sure about the DVD, but many “making of” clips can be found on this website – just click on any of the locations on the map to watch. -Joe

 

Question

How much time do you spend out in the field every year doing this kind of work? -Laura

Answer

I do love my job, but it’s also a lot of work. I’ve spent the past eight months in post-production, sitting in a darkened room in front of a computer screen. So, I’m dying to get back out in the field. Every year is different depending upon the location, but it’s not uncommon to spend about six months of the year on location. This year we will be heading to Thailand to film Asian elephants. -Joe

 

Question

You showed a 5-gallon metal bucket/lid with your food in it. That wasn’t much food! Was more dropped to you from time to time & did you have any ‘delays’ in eating because the bears were so close to you? – Nancy

Answer

We had two large bear-proof containers and a smaller container for camping. We stored the containers about 200 yards from our tents. More food supplies were left on a boat that we would rendezvous with to resupply, and move us to other bays. On a few occasions we would wait for the bears to pass before breaking into the food. Getting into the bear containers is a real pain, and anything and everything that smells must be stored in them—from food to toothpaste. We did leave the Alaska Peninsula for several weeks to film further north, and then retuned again for salmon season. It was a wonderful summer and we had a lot of good dry days to film in. -Joe

On Safety:

Question

I was curious about your fence work around your tent- I have never heard of this technique- could you explain it? -Scott

Answer

We had three proof fences (electric fences) around our tents. The fences run on 2 D cell batteries and deliver a charge of 6,000 volts. I don’t claim to understand the science behind this, but I have seen it in action and it does work. On one occasion a bear came right up to one of our electric fences and touched it with his nose, the bear immediately jumped back and quickly walked away. We watched as he looked over his shoulders a few time in apparent dismay. In addition to our electric fences and bear proof containers, we also carried pepper spray and road flares to deter any bear that might be overly curious about us. Whenever hiking or camping in bear country, it’s always good to carry bear spray and to make sure your food is stored properly. -Joe

On the Bears:

Question

Why didn’t the bears attack you as a food source or as a predator? -Hal

Answer

This is really a question for Chris, but I will give it a go.
In the area we were filming, along the Alaska Peninsula, brown bears have a plentiful food supply: rich sedge meadows in spring, and a bountiful salmon run in late summer. The brown bears in this area did not view us as competition, nor as a food source. Unlike Africa, bears and humans did not evolve together, so humans are not normally on a brown bears’ diet. In general bears tend to avoid people whenever possible. -Joe

 

Question

Dear Chris,
If you want bears to stay in their desired locations, why not plant what
they love to eat like berries, honey, and yes, areas with bird seeds and
other nutrients they love so they won’t enter around homes and
businesses? Thanks, Cecilia

Answer

Providing additional NATURAL foods is not a bad idea Cecilia – as long as these natural foods were planted far enough away from human residences, and as long as the species planted are native plants. But providing non-natural foods like bird seed to bears, even away from humans is not the best solution. Even if it is for the right reasons. The very best solution is education to help ensure that people do not provide food rewards for bears – especially garbage and bird feeders, but also compost, orchards, and barbecue grease! There are lots of tips about living with black and grizzly bears, wolves, and cougars our Grizzly Bear Outreach Project website: www.bearinfo.org -Chris

 

Question

Chris,
First, I should like to thank you for your work on behalf of bears and other wildlife, and to commend you and Joe on perhaps the finest wildlife film I ever have had the privilege of watching. I always have appreciated wildlife in a more general sense, but your “up close and personal” views instilled in me a new sense of fascination with bears, specifically.

Watching Jessy and Rick chasing black bears around backyards did raise questions in my mind concerning the feasibility of possible solutions which might diminish the necessity for such Herculean efforts:

1) Might residents be required by city ordinance to remove birdfeeders by a specific date, and to use some chemical to neutralize the odor of feed spilled on the ground, with a fine imposed for violation?

2) Might the Alaska Department of Fish and Game employ sniffer dogs to patrol urban neighborhoods in the warmer months to “alert” on birdfeeders (thus enforcing rule 1 above)?

3) Might the Department employ border collies to herd errant bears into traps or into more suitable surroundings, rather than having human beings running themselves ragged for hours to acomplish what a good sheepdog could do in 60 seconds flat?

Again, thanks so much for your fine work! Best wishes in your continuing work.

Yours truly,
Charlotte Perry McConnell

Answer

Thank you SO much for these amazing comments. it is feedback like this that fuels our work and moves us forward! THANK YOU!

1) This is a technique used in some areas, where it is illegal to feed bears, or even leave attractants out that might reward a bear. When voluntary measures do not work, I think that city ordinances are a good option – especially when it comes to keeping people safe, and bears alive.

2) Not a bad idea, but something that might be as labor intensive as the program that Jessy and Rick are responsible for. The very best option is making sure that bears and people are safer when attractants are removed. Simple things like placing garbage cans out on the morning of pick up rather than the night before; cleaning barbecues after use, picking up fruit from orchards, and reducing compost scent with lime. Plus of course knowing about how to stay safe in bear country, how to react in encounters, and learning about the fascinating ecology, behavior and diet of bears – all things that help us live alongside these amazing animals.

3) Interestingly dogs ARE used in bear management elsewhere. Karelian bear dogs are bred and trained for this exact use – they are impressive animals that really know how to behave around bears, and they are very effective. Check this organization out for more info. -Chris

 

Question

Chris,
Do Grizzly and Polar bears ever meet, and if so (actually, whether they do or don’t, what’s your opinion), who would be the victor in a battle between average-size bears of each species? -Andy

Answer

Great question Andy – the answer is yes they do occasionally meet. Here are a couple of interesting scenarios: we filmed polar bears on a whale carcass on the north slope of Alaska. Sometimes grizzly bears sow up here too, and although I have not been lucky enough to witness it myself, grizzly bears are often the victors when it comes to confrontations with polar bears. Pretty amazing I know. Especially as polar bears are notorious as the only truly carnivorous bear species of the eight. Also – in 2006 an American polar bear hunter shot a grizzly-polar bear hybrid in the Canadian Arctic – a surprise even for most scientists who thought that hybridization between these species could only really happen in captivity. Since that time even second generation grizzly-polar bears have been discovered in the wild. So, as surprising as it may seem, these two very different species do occasionally meet and mate in the wild. [Another important gem though is that polar bears only split from grizzly bears 150,000 years ago - a mere blip in the evolutionary timescale - so they are VERY closely related genetically]. -Chris

 

Question

Hi Chris. Traveled & shot w/you, Dennis Mense and all early July ‘05 in Svalbard. Enjoyed much your first PBS show last week. Good work! Looking forward to the next two productions.

Chris – an important question/comment: Have you heard, read and/or studied of the great warming period – 800 thru 1300 AD? I never ever hear conservationists, biologists, etc. speak of this or try to explain it away. It [this warming period] is fascinating in what it did to the northern hemisphere, opening up Greenland allowing successful colonization and farming thus allowing the Vikings to reach N. America in about 1,000 AD, grape vineyards – wine production in N. England and Scotland [don't know what happened in the southern hem.]. Amidst all this ‘tremendous warming’ [so much greater than what is being talked about and predicted these days] the Polar Bears, seals, walrus and such did not at all become extinct. They all adapted for about 500 years! What do your studies say about this event – how did the creatures make it then – how in fact did they survive? Greenland had to have melted back 25 – 50% or more I’d suspect in order to open up the land to allow hundreds of years of successful agriculture. This warming had to have wiped out the ice in the arctic for hundred’s of years!

Thanks much Chris. All the best wishes to you on these production efforts. -Skip Madsen

Answer

Great to hear from you Skip! Fond memories from Svalbard! Thanks for the question. I have not studied that era of warming so can’t comment in any depth. One short answer is that climate change has never occurred as rapidly as the present rate of change. This gives species of any kind VERY little time to adapt physiologically, or even behaviorally. Polar bears split from brown/grizzly bears only 150,000 years ago and so their adaptations that are focussed on thriving in Arctic conditions and hunting seals from the surface of the ice have happened extremely rapidly. “Devolving” into a more omnivorous opportunist like its grizzly bear cousin is not a realistic likelihood for the polar bear. We do stand to lose two thirds of the world’s polar bears over the next 40 years. On average that is about a bear a day – 16,000 of them. Changes are already afoot though – this is not something that will affect polar bears in the future – it is happening now – especially in the more southern populations in places like Western Hudson Bay and even the north slope of Alaska. Decades of research and hundreds of collared and tagged polar bears on the coast of Hudson bay have shown that bears are lighter, having fewer cubs, and surviving less than they used to because the sea ice is melting earlier each spring, and freezing later each fall, giving the bears less time each season to hunt seals, which are also totally dependent upon ice. -Chris

 

Question

I myself have been to both Anchorage and Prudhoe Bay. Alaska is indeed a fascinating place, on a grand scale, and you two captured it beautiful in your documentary which aired tonight. My question is: did you see any of those wildlife corridors that are meant to allow animals to cross under the Alyesaka pipeline? Do you think the animals actually use them?
Sincerely,
Gerald Graham, Ph. D.

Answer

Thank you for your kind comments Gerald. Yes we did see caribou move under the pipeline – in many places the pipeline is raised enough for this to happen quite easily. -Chris

 

Question

Great program!
In part II of the program you commented Prudhoe Bay felt the effects of climate change more than anywhere. Why?
Donna Kimler

Answer

We were referring to the fact that the affects of climate change are most pronounced in the Arctic – exactly where Prudhoe Bay is located. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify Donna! And thanks for watching. -Chris

 

Question

Do urban bears hibernate, ie., those in Anchorage? Thanks for answering our question. Loved the show! And cannot wait for the next installment.
Kathy Bond

Answer

Wonderful – thank you Kathy! Yes they do, but males are especially known in some areas to skip hibernation if they can find sufficient food to sustain them through winter. As you probably know, hibernation is just a mechanism to help bears avoid the lean months of winter when food is not available. If it IS available, then the need to sleep is avoided. Of course, it’s problematic if the food that the bears are accessing is from human sources like garbage and bird seed. Bears usually lose in that scenario.

 

Question

Do bear cubs that grow up together or in close proximity change the way they interact as adults?
Deborah Harris

Answer

I’ve seen siblings interact later in life in a way that definitely makes it seem like they “know” each other. Bears are usually solitary animals that don’t interact readily, so it is pretty apparent when they do. Sometimes after cubs are “booted out” by their mother they will hang out for some time (perhaps months). It must be a stressful time as a cub, and perhaps the company helps! -Chris

 

Question

An absorbing and informative video with fantastic scenes. Many thanks to you and Joe for your superb efforts. Do you believe that bears senses an individual feels threatened and is afraid? Often you would say, “Hey bear, hey bear.” Do bears have keen eyesight. Also, I often find curious that bears will stand on their hind legs to see better and wonder how this behavior evolved. Keep up the good work to help others to understand our wildlife and conservation. -John

Answer

Thank you so much John for your very kind comments. Yes I do think that bears are perceptive enough to recognize fear and anxiety in others – other bears for sure, and even other species – like humans. They have evolved to display and recognize all kinds of physical body language to help avoid nasty physical confrontations that can have bad results for both parties. Talking to a bear can help calm yourself, AND the bear, so I do it a lot whenever reassurance is needed. And yes they have quite good eyesight – probably as good as a human, and in color too. But their nose takes precedence! -Chris

 

Question

Are there any reintroduction projects for orphan bears? And are there any plans to reintroduce wild adults to some of the places where they once lived but were caused to go extinct by humans ? -Ryan

Answer

Thanks for the great question Ryan – yes several projects do rehabilitate and release black bear cubs in North America. These are usually cubs that have been orphaned by hunters, or vehicle collisions with their mothers etc. Most of these projects release bears into areas where black bears already occur, as opposed to “reintroduction” into areas where they formerly occurred. Although I believe black bears were successfully reintroduced to Arkansas a number of years ago. Internationally, other efforts are underway in places like Borneo where Joe and I have also filmed. There, our bear research and conservation colleague Siew Te Wong is working hard to save the sun bear. Part of his efforts focus on rehabilitating cubs that have been taken into the pet trade. In some cases they can be released back into the wild, and even into areas where they once occurred (providing the factors that eliminated them have been removed). More about Dr Wong’s amazing work here. -Chris

 

Question

When Nadie, and her cubs, came within six feet, or so, of you, I held my breath. Did you two have other such close encounters with mama bears, and their cubs? What scenario placed you in a higher state of alertness – possible encounters with: mama bears and their cubs; adult bears (of either gender) without cubs; or adolescents who were no longer with their mothers? -Naomi

Answer

I really appreciate the many questions about bear proximity and staying safe and respectful in bear country. Nadie and her cubs grazed right by us one day as we sat 80 yards away from her in a meadow. In bear habitat, bears call the shots. She did the approaching, not us, and often in this area, the best course of action is to remain very calm and still to let the bears pass without causing her any anxiety. I’ve spent my career teaching about bear conservation and how to be safe in bear country, and I’ve spent thousands of hours among Alaska’s coastal bears over the last decade, so it is important to me that people understand exactly what is going on in this location with the coastal brown bears of the Alaska Peninsula, and the context of their behavior. The coastal brown bears (Ursus arctos) that we filmed in SW Alaska have access to healthy runs of salmon which means that these normally solitary animals have become quite tolerant of each other over a rich food resource. In certain situations, they seem to extend that tolerance to humans, and will frequently come quite close to people during their everyday feeding activities. Some of these bears in this area have seen people before, and have not had a reason to treat humans as anything other than a pretty neutral species – they have become “human-habituated”. They don’t associate people with food, and that is critically important. Like this female – she’s well used to being on the same meadow as humans and she knows we pose no threat, or have any food to offer!

It is also important to note that all bears are different. In fact any two bears can be as different as any two people, so it is not always easy to predict how they might behave. But a lot of it comes down to understanding bear behavior, body language, and motivation.

The bears on the Alaska Peninsula (episode 1) are socially very different to grizzly/brown bears (Ursus arctos) in the interior (e.g. Denali, or in the Lower 48 Yellowstone, Glacier etc), where a much larger buffer space is advised. Generally speaking, close-up interactions with bears should be avoided at all cost (Wildlife + Distance = Safety). Situations can vary immensely and a knowledge of bear behavior is essential when determining the best course of action.

For more information on bear safety, please go to our Grizzly Bear Outreach Project (GBOP). -Chris

 

Question

What inspired you to go into your career? -Eva and Coralie

Answer

A completely chance happening – I met a black bear biologist who was doing research on the population of bears in the White Mountains of New Hampshire when I was working on a summer camp as an 18 year old visitor from the UK. he took me out into the field to capture bears and the experience changed me forever. Before that I was planning to be a graphic designer! For the longer version you’ll have to read my book :-) -Chris

 

Question

Will the mama bear always know who her cubs are for years to come? -Cathy

Answer

I do think there is family recognition yes, but that doesn’t always mean that there is family acceptance – they can still get testy! -Chris

 

Question

Hi Chris & Joe,
I am wondering if you encountered any signs hybrid polar-grizzly bears while in the north and what your thoughts are on the subject. Although rare now, with climate change causing grizzlies to slowly move north, the chances of more hybrids will probably increase. Currently, the Endangered Species Act doesn’t protect hybrid animals, but some say it should. Also, could hybridization further endanger the polar bear?

And what are the other dangers of hybridization … sterilized bears, weakened species?

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you both for this amazing series! I plan to purchase the Blu-ray disc and book so I can relive it and to share the experience with friends. The photography was breathtaking, not only of the bears, but the scenery!

Take care,
Bob Loveless
Vancouver, Canada

Answer

Thanks so much for your kind comments Bob – it sounds like you might really enjoy the accompanying book too (‘Bears of the Last Frontier’) which goes into a lot of detail about the bears, their behavior, ecology, and conservation, as well as behind the scenes stories from our filming. We didn’t come across hybrid bears, but grizzly-polar bear hybrids do exist as you know, and have recently been found in the wild. Even second generation hybrids, meaning that the first generation were fertile, which is a qualification usually restricted to within species. Polar bears are very closely related to grizzly/brown bears having only split from them some 150,000 years ago, so it is not surprising that they are physiologically capable of breeding, but it has surprised a lot of bear scientists that they are behaviorally capable of breeding. The theory used to be that these two species readily avoided each other. It’s an interesting concept about the ESA protection for hybrid species, and a complex debate. The threat to polar bears by hybridization is far less concerning than the threat from climate change though for sure. -Chris

Tags:
  • Wilson

    I am an Alaskan who aspires to become a wildlife filmmaker and I have a two-parted question. Firstly, what advice would you offer regarding breaking into the wildlife film industry? And secondly, one of my dreams is to someday film a series showcasing wildlife and ecosystems in my home state; what kind of state permit systems and regulations did you guys come up against while working on your three-part series? Thanks!

  • Jim

    WOW, that was just amazing to see what you all did. To all who made this show possible THANK YOU,AND WHAT A GREAT JOB………..

  • Hal Banks

    Why didn’t the bears attack you as a food source or as a predator?

    REALLY AMAZING !

  • Nigel Eves

    i live in black bear country in Ontario and I’m nervous sometime when I get within eyesight of them .,
    Knowing the story of Treadwell and others killed by brown bears, I’m amazed that you stood your ground.
    that’s some big cojones there!

    Were you ever ready to quit?

  • Becky

    I enjoyed the behavioral ecology aspects of your study. I had no idea bears were that social, but maybe that was only because in summer resources are plentiful?

    How long were you studying the bears and where were you–the Kenai peninsula?

    Thanks.

  • Cynthia

    Great show – amazing photography.

  • Andy

    Where is the bike? We want the bike!

  • Liane

    I have been watching and enjoying Nature for over 20 years now and this is probably one of the best episodes ever. Beautifully done! It really makes you see the bears as the intelligent, adaptable creatures they are. Seeing the devotion they put into raising their cubs is really something.

    Thanks for a wonderful show!

  • Kevin

    What kind of motorcycle was used on the show?

  • Bernie Grabowski

    Fantastic!

    Can you tell me where you filmed this.

    Last year, I photographed brown bears for three days at Brooks Falls; to me it was really awesome.

    I’d like to go back to Alaska to the location where you filmed. Of course I want to do this safely, so any advice you could give on guides, flying services, etc. would be helpful.

    Thanks,

    Bernie Grabowski

  • Ryan

    this is a wonderful project. Are there any reintroduction projects for orphan bears? And are there any plans to reintroduce wild adults to some of the places where they once lived but were caused to go extinct by humans ?

  • Dave tribiano

    Would you have used bear spray if the bear kept charging? At what point do you choose to use the spray? I will be in different parts of Alaska and are the bears different there in that they would be much more willing to attack? Were you in Katmai? Thank you. A great show for people who love wildlife and nature in general. Please give us more, you have a great way of presenting a story.

  • Hal Banks

    Will they answer the questions here?

  • Joe Pontecorvo

    Hi Wilson,
    Alaska is a great place for wildlife photographer. The best advice I can give is to start small, maybe using a digital SLR that has video capability. Choose a subject that interests you and start filming. Then edit together short subjects, as you become more familiar with the process you can begin to assemble a sample of your work to shop around to potential clients. My personal experience started in my hometown here in the Northwest filming salmon and working with local producers. I learned a lot from the people I worked with, both as a photographer and eventually as a producer.
    Thanks for your question.

  • Joe Pontecorvo

    Hi Hal Banks,
    This is really a question for Chris, but I will give it a go.
    In the area we were filming, along the Alaska Peninsula, brown bears have a plentiful food supply: rich sedge meadows in spring, and a bountiful salmon run in late summer. The brown bears in this area did not view us as competition, nor as a food source. Unlike Africa, bears and humans did not evolve together, so humans are not normally on a brown bears diet. In general bears tend to avoid people whenever possible.
    Thanks for your question.

  • Hal Banks

    Thanks joe for the response.

    i watched a nature show in which a particuliar killer whale pod ate certain types of prey that another pod of killer whales did not and it was deemed as a culturial issue on diet passed on generations.

    I would imagine that if you were in bear country where bear attacks occur, you would not be answering my questions today.

  • asfriedbauer

    PBS has once again become my favorite channel. It’s stories like the “City of Bears” that makes all the difference. If I was into collecting DVD’s or Blueray this would be among the first in the collection. Great work.

  • Laurie Lyon

    Hi Chris and Joe,
    I do not have a TV either. Will this program be available on DVD, iTunes, podcast, or some other method to download and view? I would be happy to buy it. I hate to miss it. It sounds fantastic, and I appreciate that you are so respectful to the bears.
    Regards,
    Laurie Lyon

  • roger coston

    Can you recommend a good book which describes the cause and effects of changes to ecosystems? You explained one point so well in your “live chat”. You said that when wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone, this caused the coyotes population to drop, which in turn led to small mammal increases which led to an increase in birds of prey, etc… Is there a good book or books which explains this in the simple and straightforward manner in which you speak of it?

  • laura stieber

    I guess this would be for both of you… How much time to you spend out in the field every year doing this kind of work? Looks like a dream job to me ;)

  • laura stieber

    I guess this would be for both of you… How much time do you spend out in the field every year doing this kind of work? Looks like a dream job to me ;)

  • Barbara C

    Hey Roger Coston– I can suggest a book, but I am sure Chris knows one too. I loved The Wolf’s Tooth, by Christina Eisenberg. She researched the trophic cascade across the west post-wolf reintroductions.
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1597263982/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=rocksthatlook-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399349&creativeASIN=1597263982

  • kelly o’ryan

    Great show!!!! I also would like to know about the bike.

  • Joe Pontecorvo

    Hi Laurie Lyon,
    You can pre-order the DVD now through the PBS website and it will ship on 6/28/2011.

  • Joe Pontecorvo

    Hi Wilson,
    I’m sorry I thought I responded to your question. Alaska is a great location for wildlife photography. My own experience breaking into wildlife filmmaking started locally working as a cameraman here in Seattle with some great local producers that I really learned a lot from. If you are filming professionally you need to get a permit to film in national parks, or on BLM land. I hope this is helpful.

  • Davey

    did you guys ever find out what happened to those triplet grizzly cubs?

  • Joe Pontecorvo

    Hi Davey,
    We don’t know what happened to those triplets, but I think Chris is heading back sometime this season and I’m hoping he finds out.

  • Joe Pontecorvo

    Hi Laura Stieber,
    I do love my job, but it’s also a lot of work. I’ve spent the past eight months in post production, sitting in a darkened room in front of a computer screen. So, I’m dying to get back out in the field. Every year is different depending upon the location, but it’s not uncommon to spend about six months of the year on location. This year we will be heading to Thailand to film Asian elephants.

  • Barbara

    Any additional information on the status of the mother bear and her triplets? She and her babies looked skinnier, less healthy than the others. If not, are there any resources available that would know?

  • Elizabeth

    I really enjoyed every minute of the program and look forward to part 2. The photography was breath taking. Thank you very much for putting this together.

  • Naomi

    Dear Chris and Joe,

    I just watched “City of Bears.” Amazing! You both did a wonderful job. Thank you!

    When Nadine, and her cubs, came within six feet, or so, of you, I held my breath. Did you two have other such close encounters with mama bears, and their cubs? What scenario placed you in a higher state of alertness – possible encounters with: mama bears and their cubs; adult bears (of either gender) without cubs; or adolescents who were no longer with their mothers?

    Did you stay in the area, the city of the bears, for the entire time, or did you leave, and go back? Did you have to bring all of your supplies for your stay in one trip, or were you regularly resupplied? Did the two of you sleep in shifts?

    “City of Bears” is phenomenal, and I look forward to viewing “The Road North,” and “Arctic Wanderers.” Do you have your next project already in mind? I appreciate your taking time to answer posted questions.

  • Joanne

    Dear Chris and Joe,

    I’m an alaskan and so pleased that you were able to show the sow and her cubs and how you weren’t food to her. Everyone thinks brown bears are man eaters when nothing could be further from the truth….. When the sow browsed for food right next to you, I thought, people need to see this.

    We love our bears here, they only become a problem when we make them a problem by leaving out garbage, bird seed and during the moose calving season in the spring. We want them wild and free, that’s what makes Alaska so special.

  • Michael Scally

    Dear JOE,

    As a amateur photographer I had to watch this twice because I was stunned by the quality of the film or video. The lighting, the composition, the details in every shot, the overall photography is absolutely amazing. You don’t see films like this everyday. You are a genious ! Hope you continue to make films like this one for long.
    My questions are : Was this shot in film or HD video and what brand/model cameras were used. Does the DVD show how the production was made or the detail of some shots ?

  • Justin

    Michael, seems like the camera Joe uses is the Sony PDW700 XDCAM HD format. Here’s a cool YouTube video of the behind the scenes of all his gear. Including solar panels to charge batteries which looks pretty cool.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyWVZ9z1Q8E
    http://pro.sony.com/bbsc/ssr/product-PDW700/

    Joe….there was a shot of Chris Morgan inside his tent at night. Did you use the PDW700 for that or did you have a smaller “B” camera for scenes like that.

  • Joe Pontecorvo

    Hi Michael Scally,
    Thanks so much for your comments. The show was shot on HD Video using a Sony PDW-700 XDCAM HD.
    My primary lens was a Canon 28-500mm HD lens, a really great pice of glass. But the real credit goes to Alaska’s breathtaking landscapes and long summer days. I’m not sure about the DVD, but many “making of” clips can be found on this website – just click on any of the locations on the map to watch “making of” clips:
    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/bears-of-the-last-frontier/in-search-of-alaskan-bears-multimedia-map/6437/

  • Wilson

    Thanks for the info, Joe! Can’t wait to see your guys’ next installment!

  • Kathryn Hodge

    After reading the messages, I now know the answer to the question I posed a few minutes ago…”How did you set up the fencing”? Thanks for the chat line, it is wonderful to see the wildness of Alaska. When we flew into Anchorage and rented an RV, we went south one week and north one week. It was phenomenal!! You go to the wildest plasses that I was afraid to do on my own. Have you considered doing a special on the moose? They don’t seem to be as interesting. How about the wolf or the eagle population? Dahl sheep???

  • Larry Crowson

    Hi guys,

    I’m sitting in sunny warm Tulum Mexico watching your Nature special on sat.
    TV

    Awesome story and great camera work.
    I really miss my road trips on my beemer with my friends , we used to take
    1-2 7-10 day trips always looking for the road less traveled.

    How many flats or tires did you have to fix on this trip?
    How many falls or drops did you have to deal with?
    This is the only place I haven’t been to yet and I hear the rocks or
    boulders in the road can be real killers and drop you without much notice

    Really appreciated your film guys.

    Thanks

    Bend, Oregon & Tulum , Mexico

  • Bill Rossiter

    Joe, you have a gift for making the most of any light, capturing fleeting moments as if they were rehearsed, and presenting Chris’ passion, respect and knowledge for the bears. You have raised the standards for your craft, and I hope all your peers know it. Thank you, from a nature photographer with 60 years of experience, and a few decades specializing in whales and dolphins.

  • Lisa

    Dear Chris and Joe,
    How does one create a television show like this? Maybe that is for pbs. but I wonder how you find yourself doing what you love and traveling to desolate places on earth with a film crew narrating such glory? How does this process start? What do you need to make this happen? How can I make a show like this happen?

    Jealous in Jersey,

    Lisa

  • Margarita

    Your professionalism and quality is difficult to find nowadays! We enjoy every aspect of the episodes; the narration, filmmaking, picture. We are looking forward to the next weekend and enjoy your work which makes the difference in our weekends! We wish you success in your future projects, thank you for your hard work to both of you and the rest of the staff involved in this production!

  • Emily

    Chris, BEAUTIFUL job. I really enjoyed your bears.Hope to see a lot more work from you in the future. AWESOME JOB.

  • Andy

    Chris,
    Do Grizzly and Polar bears ever meet, and if so (actually, whether they do or don’t, what’s your opinion), who would be the victor in a battle between average-size bears of each species?
    I know this is a somewhat primitive/morbid question, but i’ve always wondered, and your answer will settle a bet …i’m on the side of the Polar bear (i’ve got a whole dollar riding on this :-P ).
    Thanks, and keep up the great work…AWESOME show! I’m telling everybody about it.
    God Bless you, and stay safe.

  • Andy

    Forgot to mention one thing…

    Saw you on Dave Letterman last week, and that’s what got my interest going for your show.
    I watch a lot of PBS, and would have probably come across it anyways, but i’m so glad i saw you, and specifically looked for it.
    Again, Thank you, and God Bless you.
    Stay safe!

  • Andy

    Also, i am not the Andy who wants your bike.
    I just noticed that post, and wanted to make sure you didn’t think i was the silly person asking about your bike.
    ha ha

  • Cindy

    Awesome series and Thank You

  • Mike

    Amazing work! One of the most interesting PBS stories I’ve seen, probably because we were stationed in Alaska for 7 years and loved it!

    Maybe I missed it, but I too am interested to find out what kind of bike you were riding. It was all covered up with “stuff”, so it was hard to see any nameplates or other clues. If it’s OK, I’d like to post a link to this on ADV Rider so folks can order the DVD. Great combination of riding, exploring, and learning.

    Thanks again!

  • Tony The Tech

    Hey Joe,

    How on earth did you get that crane shot of Chris riding along the ridge in the second episode? The cinematography is so great in this show. You sometimes forget there is a guy following Him around with a bunch of camera gear.

  • rachael

    what is the color of a spirit bear and what is the diffrence between a kodiak,brown,and grizzly bear?

  • Robert Sullivan

    Hi Chris and Joe,
    This was a fantastice series, Congratulations to you both! I was awe struck by the cinematography. So my question is to Joe. I was amazed by the aerial view of the polar bear walking across the pack ice, about 23 minutes into tonight’s episode. How was that achieved?

  • A knoxville Family

    We spent the past three Sunday evenings watching your show on PBS and have enjoyed learning more about bears! Our family spends a lot of time hiking and backpacking (in black bear country), and these are a few of our questions:

    -Was it scarry being that close to bears? (from Grace, 9 yrs.)

    -Has a bear ever charged you? (from Hope, 8 yrs.)

    -What was the biggest bear that you got to see? (Nehemiah, 6 yrs.)

    -Did you have to go to school to learn about bears? (Elijah, 4 yrs.)

    We look forward to seeing your next PBS special! Thank you!

  • Patricia Taylor Matheus

    Chris and Joe,

    My cousin John Taylor told me about the series and I spread the word to other friends and family. Loved it!
    Just finished watching the last episode! I have visited the http://www.Wildlifemedia.org website and I am looking forward to BearTrek. When will the production be completed? I was absolutely intrigued by the amount of knowledge imparted by the amazing photography and narrative. Each episode spoke volumes about the interwoven nature of the diverse Alaskan terrain and the many species of life that live there. I can only imagine the amount of time it must take to edit such a series. Thank you for making this experience available for all of us who don’t want to get up close and personal with Mama Bear and her cubs! I appreciated the point made regarding the individuality of the bears. I must say I held my breath a few times for you! I had to remind myself that you are doing live chats after the show! I was on Kodiak Island in 1977 and only saw huge brown bear tracks. Decided to leave the woods after that! Alaska was experiencing a drought that year so the salmon were having a difficult time traveling upstream. The eagles however were having a feast picking them out of the shallow creek beds. Looking forward to seeing more from you and crew.

  • Chu

    Hello Chris;

    I will be very honest with you. I rarely watch shows on PBS, until one night as I was channel surfing, I saw your show on PBS… WOW… You are amazing and very gutsy. Since that first epsiode, I was addicted to your show, and cannot stop watching this three part series. But I cannot thank you enough for opening my eyes and seeing the other side of life from a bears perspective. Some day I would like to go out into nature and watch how bears live.

    But my question is have there ever been any cross breeds between bears… For example a grizzle and a polar bear? The other question I have, is what made you decide to do this 3 part serious?

    I am exicted to see you show, and one day I hope to meet you in person and ask you a lot more questions… But thank you, it was A.W.E.S.O.M.E!

  • Hal Banks

    Thanks for answering my question!

    I will be honest with you, I ALWAYS watch shows on PBS.

    My take from your 3 episodes:

    I didn’t get the feeling that bears were “needed” in our eco system. There was no importance in the bears role in maintaining any speceis (salmon, caribou,…). This is no reason to kill them ,obviously.

    For me, the 3 hours could be summed up in that moment in which the mother bear and her cubs were within a few feet of you. Her tolerance towards you showed how animals are much more complex in beahviour, intelligence, and manner then we make them out to be.

    We wanr the wild, but we want it under OUR control.

    It’s unfortunate, but we may end up pushing many species on the brink of extinction; too late after we realize what we have lost.

    Overall, Great Job !

    Your next project: Revivng the Salmon Run in Canada

    You two weren’t expecting any time off, were you?

    GL

  • Mark and Shelby

    Hi Chris and Joe- just wanted to say how much we really enjoyed the series: The quality of the work you do and dedication to environment and all of us living in it. We sat riveted (in the comfort of our bed), watching the episodes and are thankful for you “bearing” up under the cold, wet, mud and other natural events to create this program. Thanks so much for all of your hard work and look forward to the next series.

    Thanks again,

    Mark and Shelby/Tucson, AZ

  • Richard

    Excellent work—many thanks!!!

  • Terri G Hall

    Chris & Joe: I started with the 1st episode and was hooked! I’ve been pondering some questions and am glad PBS and you are allowing for more to be asked. Q: knowing animals don’t work on human-time , how much time on avg did you get bear footage in a day(s)? Q: the series took how long to film? What % would be in the wonderful habit versus indoors working on editing, etc? Q: Chris, you have a natural story-telling ability. Did you do your own creating as far as narrative to the story such as when you spoke off camera? Q: Joe, your work is amazing! Thank you for sharing your gift, too. Any black/white photo work of the wildlife? Just wondering.

    I believe one of the things that kept me coming back besides the love of animals/nature would be the non-threatening information I was hearing. Kid friendly but with a message to my adult ears as well that prompts me to DO something to help save these bears, this wildlife! Kudos!

    You guys are good. The team at Wildlife Media in my opinion are using a great approach to helping me save my animals, my nature. And, Joe? If you are ever in north Georgia filming I’ll be glad to help carry the camera equipment … looks WAY heavy!

    Gotta’ say it: bear hugs to you both!

    TH

  • Dona Ortiz

    Q: For Chris, Did the study of the Cave Bear ( Ursus spelaeus) interest you first before you became a Wildlife Biologist?

  • pam

    We were watching your Wild Alaska series on the Polar bears and the grizzly bears.
    You had shown a root that you said the grizzly bears dig up in the tundra to survive on that is high in protein.
    What was the name of that plant root?
    Thank you;
    pam

  • Marc

    The footage that you’re getting on these is incredible. Really enjoying these shows. I have two questions:

    1) In the Alaskan Grizzly segment (Mother and her four cubs fishing salmon), there are shots of both of you…is there another crew member with you shooting the same format?

    2) On the jaunts that take you out “in the woods” and away from electricity, how are you keeping your camera’s batteries charged up?

    Thanks!

  • Barb Magnani

    Wonderful job educating us all on the bears in Alaska! Your work must be very rewarding to you both. I’ve been hoping someone might ask you, once the seas open back up in the Spring, do polar bears hibernate or do they migrate themselves to other places to hunt? And if they do hibernate, for what length of time? I’ve also wondered, out of the different types of bears, is there one that fascinates you more than any of the others and why?

  • Eddie Wambach

    Thoroughly enjoyed all three shows. I’d like to ask about the gear you wore. You looked completely comfortable in the rain, and your jacket for the cold looked lightweight and you were able to manuver quite easily. What company makes your outer wear? Thanks Chris and Joe.

  • Derek Gordon

    Hi Chris and Joe,

    Just loved your programs on the bears. Polar bears have always been my favorite. I am a professor of statistical genetics and am particularly interested in the genomes of the various bear species. I am sure you are aware of the recent information indicating cross-breeding among polars and brown bears. Does this breeding suggest extinction of the polar bear in the near future? Please let me know your thoughts. Thanks so much.

  • Dale Hazelton

    Hello Chris & Joe.

    Really loving the series. The locations, the quality of the camerawork and editing, and the passion for these amazing animals is simply inspiring.

    I apologize in advance if you’ve already addressed this, but is that a Honda Transalp you are riding? I notice you carry extra tires and assume you have lots of spare parts and tools on board – did you have any mechanical issues that made you wish you had just left the bike at home?

    Cheers!

  • anthony karakas

    Congrats on the best bear films i have ever seen!

    I have two questions: I’m sure you have a lot of great bear stories, but is there one in which you thought your life was in danger?

    Reading other Q&A’s, i see that you carry pepper spray. Do you also carry a firearm?

  • 9

    Ummm maybe someone needs to learn how to S-P-E-L-L before criticizing someone’s website….talk about awkward for THAT guy!

  • deborah

    Chris and Joe – Simply brilliant series. The only question is, when can we look forward to your next series?

  • Susan

    Hi Chris & Joe,
    First – Joe excellent job on the camera end of things! :0)
    Chris – my question is for you… recently I saw that several large bear fossils were recovered in a large find in North America. The bears were much larger, but are they truly extinct, or have bears just evolved by necessity into the smaller, smarter, more resourceful bears of modern times?

  • Susan Carey

    My husband and I just watched your wonderful program, City of Bears. I couldn’t t tell from the map where you filmed. Were you near Homer or Kenai, or on the land south of Sleeping Lady? Thank you, susan

  • Joseph Ponticorvo

    I am an avid watcher of all the nature shows on channel 13, and brown bears have always been amoung my favorite. I am looking at the program at this moment, and I was a bit shocked when I heard Chris Morgan mention that his companion filmmaker’s name was Joe Pontecorvo. I believe that the e in my name was accidentally changed when my grandfather came to America in the early 1900’s. It’s a thrill to know that there is another Joe out there doing what I have often dreamed of doing.

  • Carmen Zavislake

    Dear Joe and Chris,
    Just finished watching part one and two of Bears of the Last Frontier, let me tell you that I liked it so much I just purchased it!
    I want to thank you for creating a beautiful and informative show, for frankly bears always scared me a bit. I think now that I can understand how to be a little safer when camping in bear habitats near me, like Algonquin Park and the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, Canada.
    What is your next project and where will you be filming? Can’t wait to see it!
    Cheers,
    Carmen

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