Love in a cold climate: Ferocious, bloody battles and courtship rituals that last for weeks... the awesome drama of how polar bears mate


Life in the roar: An interloper (left) tries to muscle in on a large male

As he trudges across the vast expanse of sea ice, his snowy-white fur drenched in blood after yet another brutal fight, one can’t help feeling rather sorry for the exhausted figure that is a male polar bear at the height of the mating season.
He and his kind are fearsome creatures. The largest land-based carnivores on our planet, the males can stand as high as 10ft and weigh up to 1,400lb. With razor-sharp teeth and claws, and jaws which crush with ease the skulls of the seals they prey on, they are at the top of the food chain and need fear no other animals. But when it comes to seducing the opposite sex, they have it far from easy.

Grudge match: The male (left) fights off a new challenger

Every spring sees these deadly giants battling each other for the attention of fickle females. And their titanic clashes are just part of a courtship ritual that can last for weeks and leaves them fatigued and sometimes fatally injured in their dedicated pursuit of a mate.

Battered but unbowed: The undefeated male departs with his unfazed mate

Few humans have ever witnessed the intimacies and drama involved. But now, for the first time, it has been filmed in its entirety for the BBC’s new Frozen Planet series, presented by Sir David Attenborough.
As the executive producer of these documentaries, I know that audiences will be as enthralled as we on the production team were when we first saw this remarkable footage.

To capture these very private moments, we set up a base in Svalbard, an archipelago of islands midway between Norway and the North Pole and home to some 3,000 polar bears. (This was the area where the British schoolboy Horatio Chapple tragically lost his life in August after being attacked in his tent by a bear.)
One of our cameras was mounted in a helicopter and equipped with a special lens, which gave us incredibly detailed close-ups without disturbing the wildlife below. Another team was down on the ice, riding a snowmobile on which they could escape if pursued by the bears, who can run surprisingly quickly at speeds of up to 25mph.

Splash: A polar bear and two cubs ready to spring into the ice-cold waters

The first programme in the series shows the transformation in the polar landscape as March arrives and the sun begins to illuminate the Arctic’s icy wastes for the first time in six months.
The polar bears have spent the long dark winter alone, solitary silhouettes wandering across the gloom of the sea ice in 100mph winds and temperatures of minus 70 centigrade.
They rarely, if ever, encounter others of their own species, but that all changes as the sun tinges the landscape with an array of stunning pinks and oranges, a mystical backdrop for the start of their mating season.
Competition for mates is intense. It takes almost three years for polar bear mothers to wean their cubs, so each spring only around a third of them will be free of child-rearing responsibilities and open to breeding.

Legend: David Attenborough's new series captures these rituals on camera for the first time

We can only hope that things turn out well for our mother-to-be and her young. As for their father, if he can recover from the wounds he sustained in siring them he will soon be on the hunt for new females, ready to begin once again the arduous and dangerous business that is the love life of the polar bear.
Frozen Planet: To The Ends Of The Earth begins on BBC1, Wednesday, at 9pm.

Drama: This single piece of ice would dwarf most of mankind's buildings. It collapsed from Store Glacier on the west coast of Greenland in July 2010 and is captured in Frozen Planet

source: dailymail