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S37 Ep6

Snow Bears

Premiere: 11/28/2018 | 00:00:35 | Closed Captioning Icon

Witness the incredible journey of newborn polar bear cubs as they leave the safety of their den for the first time. Bravely led by their mother, the cubs must make the perilous 400-mile Arctic trek to the sea to feed. Narrated by Kate Winslet.



About the Episode

Set against the harsh backdrop of the Arctic, Nature: Snow Bears is a dramatized story based on the extraordinary adventures and life-changing journey of newborn polar bear cubs as they leave the safety of their den for the first time. Bravely led by their mother, the cubs must make the perilous 400-mile trek to the sea to feed. Encountering many dangers and adventures along the way — marauding male bears ready to kill, extreme weather, Arctic foxes, Walruses, Narwhal, snowdrifts and ice cracks — they undertake an epic survival challenge. These cubs are rarely seen in their natural habitat, and this is a unique glimpse into their world. Kate Winslet narrates.

Noteworthy Facts:

  • After months of winter hibernation, the return of summer to the Arctic means that polar bears must make the 400-mile trek to the edge of the ice surrounding the North Pole. This area is abundant with seals, their favorite food. Timing for the journey is crucial – if they don’t leave the island in time, the sea ice will be gone, which means they could be marooned for the summer.
  • Adult bears can travel up to 50 miles a day, but for cubs, even 10 miles is a struggle. At three months old they need six rest breaks a day Adult bears can also swim up to 60 miles nonstop, but not the cubs.
  • Arctic foxes get through the winter by scavenging for scraps and surviving on their food stores. They tend to eat the leftovers from a polar bear’s kills.
  • Polar bears can smell seals under three feet of snow. Hunting requires precise timing and experience – only about one in ten hunts is successful.
  • The North Pole is populated with diverse creatures such as narwhals, walruses, and seals. They migrate to the region during summer when fish are abundant.

Buzzworthy Moments:

  • Before the mother and her two cubs can begin their journey, two large males, searching for a mate, approach the family. Since males sometimes kill cubs so they can mate with the mother, the mother must defend herself. The two males fight for the mother’s attention, and during the distraction, she slips away with her cubs.
  • Courting males will sometimes stalk females for many weeks; this family must escape from several more encounters throughout the trek. One tense scene shows a male pursuing them up a steep cliff. Near the summit, the family becomes trapped, but the mother wins the fight by pushing snow onto the male, causing him to slip and fall away.
  • The summer melt has arrived early – an increasing problem in recent years. With the sea-ice vanishing, the polar bear family’s chances of getting safely to their destination become slimmer. They must pass through one of the most dangerous parts of the journey – the glacial fjords. Thousands of tons of glaciers create a wall of water around the sea ice, and the heat makes them increasingly unstable.
  • Bearded seals weigh around a quarter of a ton and are a prized catch for polar bears. The mother bear stealthily attempts to sneak up and catch the seal. Approaching without being spotted is crucial, and she is on high alert since previous hunting efforts have been thwarted by her cubs’ movements and loud noises.

Narrated by


Specialist Camera Devices


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Dubbing Mixer


Production Supervisors

Edit Assistant

Archive Manager

Performed by BBC Concert Orchestra
Vocals by Mari Strand Ferstad

Special Thanks

Production Coordinator

Finance Manager

Production Manager

Head of Production

Commissioning Editor

Executive Producers

Produced and Directed by

© 2017 John Downer Productions LTD
All Rights Reserved


Series Editor

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Original Funding Provided in Part by
The Arnhold Family In Memory Of Clarisse Arnhold
Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III
Kate W. Cassidy Foundation
Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust
Kathy Chiao and Ken Hao
Anderson Family Fund
Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation
Rosalind P. Walter
The Halmi Family in memory of Robert Halmi, Sr.
Sandra Atlas Bass
The Sun Hill Family Foundation
Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Series Producer

Executive Producer

A John Downer Production for BBC, PBS and THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC

This program was produced by THIRTEEN Productions LLC, which is solely responsible for its content

All Rights Reserved


♪♪ ♪♪ WINSLET: It's the end of a long Arctic winter.

[ Bear growls ] A mother polar bear emerges from her den deep beneath the snow.

She's endured months of freezing temperatures to give birth to her cubs.

Ahead of them is the adventure of a lifetime.

♪♪ To survive, the polar bear cubs must follow their mother on an incredible 400-mile trek to the edge of the North Pole's pack ice.

It's the greatest challenge of their young lives.

They'll encounter strange creatures... ...brave treacherous ice... ...perilous seas... and threatening males.

It's a journey full of surprises... as they learn to thrive in a frozen world.

This is a dramatized story based on the extraordinary adventures of nature's 'Snow Bears.'

♪♪ ♪♪ WINSLET: High on the southern slopes of the mountains, deep snow drifts kept their den safe from winter storms.

The downside of their location is, well, getting down.

One cub seems fearless.

♪♪ His sister is a little less confident.

But to get down safely, this cub must trust her mother.

Her reassurance goes a long way.

♪♪ There are no nursery slopes when you're a thousand feet up.

♪♪ And with every step, the slope becomes increasingly treacherous.

Tiny paws are no match for powdery snow.

♪♪ ♪♪ The nervous cubs need some tough love.

♪♪ ♪♪ After seven months in the den, the soft, fresh snow must be bliss.

As the cubs' confidence increases, so does the fun.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Halfway down and the cubs are ready for a break.

♪♪ Their mother's milk is almost a third fat -- high-energy fuel for their adventure ahead.

♪♪ After months of winter darkness, the sun's return to Svalbard marks a turning point.

♪♪ For the bears, it means leaving their island.

♪♪ When the ice melts in spring, the seals vanish with it, so they must follow their prey north.

The first leg will be to walk 250 miles on the frozen sea that hugs the coastline.

They'll pass the great glacial fjords before reaching the northern tip of the island.

♪♪ Here they'll venture onto the floating sea ice to cover the final 150 miles.

♪♪ Their destination -- the seal-rich edge of the pack ice surrounding the North Pole.

♪♪ But if they don't leave the island in time, the sea ice will be gone, and they could be marooned here for the summer.

♪♪ With little to eat, the cubs would be unlikely to survive.

For mothers with cubs, it's not just the melting ice that's a threat.

A large male.

♪♪ ♪♪ He's searching for a mate, and they sometimes kill cubs so they can have a family of their own.

♪♪ ♪♪ The cubs sense the danger.

♪♪ Their mother blocks his path.

But the male sees this as an invitation.

♪♪ [ Growling ] But she has a plan -- lead him as far from her cubs as possible.

♪♪ On the slopes, she's faster and more agile.

She's soon giving him the runaround.

♪♪ ♪♪ Courting males will stalk females for many weeks.

♪♪ He shadows her closely.

Somehow she must give him the slip.

♪♪ ♪♪ But he's not the only one looking for a mate.

♪♪ Rivalry is always fierce among the males.

He won't give her up without a fight.

♪♪ She takes her chance to sneak away.

Bears sometimes fight to the death over females.

Now to make good their escape.

[ Growling ] But a quick getaway isn't easy.

♪♪ One cub realizes the urgency.

But the other is struggling.

Luckily, there is an easier way.

♪♪ ♪♪ Finally, the rival is driven off.

♪♪ The amorous male may have won the fight, but he's lost his prize.

♪♪ The family can't afford any more holdups.

Heading north, they hug the frozen coastline for speed.

Adult bears can travel 50 miles a day, but for the cubs, even 10 miles is a struggle.

♪♪ ♪♪ They are tired and can walk no more.

♪♪ At three months old, they need six rest breaks a day.

♪♪ ♪♪ The male has picked up their scent.

♪♪ Polar bears will pursue females over vast distances.

♪♪ And here, there's no covering your tracks.

They must get moving, but their mother hasn't eaten for seven months and is weak with hunger.

♪♪ A ringed seal -- a chance for the cubs to have a hunting lesson.

♪♪ ♪♪ Stealth and complete silence are essential.

The cubs are trying their best to stay interested.

♪♪ It doesn't last.

♪♪ ♪♪ Time for a bit of discipline, polar bear style.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Luckily the sea ice is rich in seals.

A naive young pup.

He's unlikely to have ever seen a bear.

♪♪ ♪♪ She treads gently... not easy when you weigh almost a quarter of a ton.

The ice soon gives her away.

The mother seal tries to warn her pup.

The mother bear has other ideas.

The pup remains blissfully unaware.

A last desperate warning.

Message received.

♪♪ A setback.

But she can't afford to give up.

♪♪ Every 30 minutes, the seals must take a breath.

And she'll be waiting.

This lesson is all about patience.

The female cub seems to be taking the lesson seriously.

One day she'll have her own young to feed.

Her brother prefers making snowballs.

♪♪ ♪♪ At last, the waiting is over.

But it's the wrong hole.

Even the experts can get it wrong.

Still hungry, they must keep hunting.

♪♪ The bears aren't the only carnivores trying to scratch a living on the island.

Arctic foxes get through the winter scavenging for scraps and surviving on their food stores.

The warmer spring air means the good times are on their way.

♪♪ Unlike the bears, they can't wait for the ice to melt.

The summer will bring out the nesting birds they prey on.

♪♪ For the cubs, a break from walking is always welcome.

♪♪ ♪♪ But their mother senses a different opportunity.

♪♪ One of the foxes is digging up his winter food stores.

Leftovers are his insurance policy against starvation.

But his secret is out.

In times of need, polar bears aren't beneath stealing.

It's a welcome snack for the mother and the cubs' first taste of meat.

Foxes scavenge from polar bears.

Perhaps it's only fair that they return the favor.

[ Chittering ] The Arctic fox spots another intruder.

The amorous male is back.

She must think quickly.

She can't outrun him on the flat coastal ice.

She must lead the cubs up and over the mountains.

On the steep slopes, the massive male will struggle to keep up with the more nimble family.

At twice the weight of the female, it's heavy going.

♪♪ ♪♪ But with his prize in sight, he is not giving up.

♪♪ Nearing the summit, the family have become trapped.

The male sees his chance.

The cubs are panicking.

♪♪ To escape, they must somehow scale the wall of ice and snow.

♪♪ ♪♪ But he's matching them step for step.

The stronger male cub is keeping up.

His sister struggles.

♪♪ Their mother has paved the way.

Now it's all down to her cubs.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ With one last effort, the little one is up.

♪♪ But the male is grappling with the steepest part.

Now has the advantage.

Time to strike.

♪♪ ♪♪ For the male, there's no dignified way to do this.

♪♪ ♪♪ The family are safe, but climbing over the mountain has cost them precious time and energy.

The mother can see that the ice is starting to melt, and there's still a long way to the end of the island.

♪♪ Best to take the quickest way down.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Looking for a meal, the family head for the sea ice.

But the conditions are different here.

The seals can be found hiding out in chambers under the snowdrifts.

But it's no problem.

She can still smell a seal under three feet of snow.

Even the Arctic fox can see she's onto something.

Once located, it's a case of smash and grab.

And for the cubs, it's watch and learn.

Getting it right demands precision and experience.

♪♪ ♪♪ This is it... the big one.

Or maybe not.

♪♪ ♪♪ But there's no shame in failure.

Only one in 10 hunts succeed.

Triumph at last.

These cubs are about to get their first taste of fresh seal.

It's her first proper meal for seven months, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

The tip of the island is still two weeks' walk away.

[ Bear growling ] The fox will have to wait his turn.

[ Cub growls ] [ Bird squawking ] With full bellies, the family make good progress.

But as the days warm, the cycle of melt and freeze has turned the frozen sea into an ice rink.

♪♪ Adult bears have rough, furry footpads that give a nonslip grip.

Cubs are not so well-equipped.

♪♪ But on thin ice, it's their mother who's in difficulty.

She tries to spread her weight.

But ultimately something has to give.

[ Ice cracking ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ The summer melt has arrived early.

♪♪ And the state of the ice is a sign that time is running out.

With the sea ice vanishing, the polar bear family's chances of getting safely off the land fade, too.

But they have no choice. They must keep going.

♪♪ Shattered by the pace of the journey the cubs need some time to recover.

♪♪ ♪♪ Ahead is one of the most dangerous parts of the journey -- the glacial fjords.

♪♪ ♪♪ It's a treacherous place in spring, as active glaciers become increasingly unstable.

[ Ice rumbles ] The mother looks for a safe route across while the cubs stay back.

But something's wrong.

[ Ice rumbling ] ♪♪ ♪♪ Thousands of tons of carving glacier create a wall of water pulverizing the sea ice.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Somehow she survived, but in the chaos, she's lost her cubs.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ She's picked up a scent.

♪♪ ♪♪ And on an iceberg... signs of life.

Her cubs.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Undeterred, the family move on.

They need to get out of here.

♪♪ With the glacial fjords behind them, they are nearing the tip of the island.

They've made it, but exposed rocks are not a good sign.

The ice floes, which provide safe onward passage for polar bears, have melted away.

♪♪ The mother faces a dilemma -- drowning is the greatest risk her cubs face.

So do they swim in the hope of reaching drifting ice or stay put and face starvation?

♪♪ The arrival of the amorous male makes her decision easy.

She takes her chance, hoping the cubs can make it to the nearest ice floes.

♪♪ The crossing is a test of strength and character.

♪♪ Adult bears can easily swim 60 miles nonstop, but not the youngsters.

Swimming in their mother's wake means less resistance.

They save valuable energy.

♪♪ But eventually the cubs have to rest.

Fortunately, salvation is on the horizon.

♪♪ A small iceberg, cast adrift from the glacier.

♪♪ But other bears have beaten them to it.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ The ice is a good sign, though. There will be more.

♪♪ At last, an ice floe.

The gamble was worth it.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Time to dry off... the polar bear way.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ But it sounds like the family aren't alone here after all.

♪♪ Perhaps it's a chance for a meal.

Instead, the cubs get their first glimpse of one of the Arctic's strangest creatures -- the narwhal.

♪♪ ♪♪ These whales, with their strange tusk, shaped like a mythical unicorn's horn, are a good sign.

They are also heading for the fertile waters of the far north.

♪♪ Narwhals gather where there's food in abundance.

And where there's fish, there's seals.

♪♪ On the ice floes, polar bears have to use a completely different hunting technique.

She must ambush them from the water.

♪♪ Stealth is essential.

♪♪ ♪♪ Pinpointing the seal requires deadly accuracy.

♪♪ For most of the hunt, her quarry will be out of sight.

♪♪ She must close the distance without being spotted.

♪♪ Submerging makes her invisible.

She can calculate the exact spot where the seal can be found.

♪♪ The seal doesn't suspect a thing.

Except for one small problem... ...or rather two.

♪♪ ♪♪ The mother wonders where it all went wrong.

While the cubs reflect on what they've done.

♪♪ As the summer takes hold, temperatures rise, and the melting drift ice breaks apart.

♪♪ With the passing weeks, the distances between rest stops are increasing... ...but the growing cubs are rising to the challenge.

Their mother has picked up a scent.

♪♪ ♪♪ It's now a case of following her nose.

♪♪ The scent trail is coming from the carcass of a fin whale.

Its natural death offers both food and rest for the family.

♪♪ ♪♪ Energy-rich blubber will supercharge the cubs.

♪♪ But this family are not the only bears heading north.

The male that was shadowing them has also picked up the scent.

He can swim twice as fast as the family and is making good progress.

♪♪ The mother knows the whale is a magnet for other bears, so they must eat quickly.

He's found it... and the family, too.

♪♪ ♪♪ [ Bear growls ] He may just be hungry.

But they can't take the risk.

♪♪ ♪♪ The family continue their marathon swim.

Then something strange floats into view.

Irresistible to a curious cub.

It's a sleeping walrus... ...enjoying a little peace and quiet.

[ Walrus grunts ] He's making the oddest noises.

[ Flatulence ] [ Grunts ] The rest of the herd are awake and alert.

Their calves are occasionally taken by polar bears.

♪♪ But in the water, the walruses feel safe.

They even come to investigate the cubs.

♪♪ Walruses favor the rich waters of the far north.

The bears must be close to their goal.

♪♪ ♪♪ The ice floes are getting denser.

Hunting should be good here.

A snoozing seal... and a look that says stay put and keep quiet.

♪♪ ♪♪ Bearded seals weigh around a quarter of a ton.

If the mother can catch it, this family will have enough energy to fuel their onward journey.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ She's as silent as the drifting ice.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Her success feels like a turning point... ♪♪ ...and a taste of things to come.

♪♪ But a white rainbow warns of a change in the weather.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Their destination is so close now, but they can't continue.

♪♪ ♪♪ They just have to sit it out.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ As the skies clear, it seems the storm has pushed their ice floe closer to the pack ice.

In between, dozens of seals play in the narrow channel.

It's this reliable food supply which makes the edge of the pack ice a polar bear paradise.

♪♪ One last swim and they'll be home and dry.

♪♪ But a seal so close is irresistible.

♪♪ Seals are superior swimmers and delight in taunting young bears.

♪♪ ♪♪ But the big male has also arrived.

He's been on the same journey for 400 miles.

The young cub realizes he's in trouble.

♪♪ ♪♪ It's rare for a male to find a cub alone.

Without his mother, he's defenseless.

♪♪ [ Male bear growls ] ♪♪ ♪♪ She checks on her cubs... ...and realizes one's missing.

♪♪ ♪♪ She can't make out what's happening.

♪♪ But what seems at first to be aggression may just be curiosity.

♪♪ Then, as quickly as it started, the encounter is over.

♪♪ The cub is shaken but unscathed.

Through the journey, the male's focus has shifted.

♪♪ Now he's reached the pack ice, his thoughts have turned to his stomach, rather than the female.

♪♪ They've made it.

The family can relax at last.

There may be bears everywhere, but there's nothing to fear.

♪♪ Everyone has a full belly... ...and with food in abundance, no reason to fight or flee.

♪♪ The family will spend the rest of the summer gorging on seals, fattening up for the return trip, and for the cycle to start all over again.

Every year across the Arctic, polar bears make extraordinary journeys in their constant quest for food.

So life will be one endless adventure for the 'Snow Bears.'

♪♪ ♪♪ [ Wind whistling ] WOMAN: Oh, Danny! He's okay.

WOMAN: There's somebody here to meet you.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪


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