Importance of Natural Resources

Tales of ice-bound wonderlands | Paul Nicklen


My journey to become a polar specialist, photographing, specializing
in the polar regions, began when I was four years old, when my family moved from southern Canada to Northern Baffin Island,
up by Greenland. There we lived with the Inuit in the tiny Inuit community
of 200 Inuit people, where [we] were one
of three non-Inuit families. And in this community,
we didn’t have a television; we didn’t have computers,
obviously, radio. We didn’t even have a telephone. All of my time was spent outside with the Inuit, playing. The snow and the ice were my sandbox, and the Inuit were my teachers. And that’s where I became truly obsessed with this polar realm. And I knew someday that
I was going to do something that had to do with trying
to share news about it and protect it. I’d like to share with you,
for just two minutes only, some images, a cross-section of my work, to the beautiful music
by Brandi Carlile, “Have You Ever.” I don’t know why National Geographic
has done this, they’ve never done this before, but they’re allowing me
to show you a few images from a coverage that I’ve just completed
that is not published yet. National Geographic doesn’t do this, so I’m very excited to be able
to share this with you. And what these images are — you’ll see them at the start of the slide show —
there’s only about four images — but it’s of a little bear
that lives in the Great Bear Rainforest. It’s pure white,
but it’s not a polar bear. It’s a spirit bear,
or a Kermode bear. There are only 200 of these bears left. They’re more rare than the panda bear. I sat there on the river
for two months without seeing one. I thought, my career’s over. I proposed this stupid story
to National Geographic. What in the heck was I thinking? So I had two months to sit there and figure out different ways
of what I was going to do in my next life, after I was a photographer,
because they were going to fire me. Because National Geographic is a magazine;
they remind us all the time: they publish pictures, not excuses. (Laughter) And after two months of sitting there — one day, thinking that it was all over, this incredible big white male came down, right beside me, three feet away from me, and he went down and grabbed a fish
and went off in the forest and ate it. And then I spent the entire day
living my childhood dream of walking around with this bear
through the forest. He went through this old-growth forest and sat up beside this 400-year-old
culturally modified tree and went to sleep. And I actually got to sleep
within three feet of him, just in the forest, and photograph him. So I’m very excited to be able
to show you those images and a cross-section of my work
that I’ve done on the polar regions. Please enjoy. (Music) Brandi Carlile: ♫ Have you ever wandered
lonely through the woods? ♫ ♫ And everything there
feels just as it should ♫ ♫ You’re part of the life there ♫ ♫ You’re part of something good ♫ ♫ If you’ve ever wandered
lonely through the woods ♫ ♫ Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh ♫ ♫ If you’ve ever wandered
lonely through the woods ♫ ♫ Have you ever stared
into a starry sky? ♫ ♫ Lying on your back,
you’re asking why ♫ ♫ What’s the purpose? ♫ ♫ I wonder, who am I? ♫ ♫ If you’ve ever stared
into a starry sky ♫ ♫ Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh ♫ ♫ Aah, ah, aah ♫ ♫ Ah, oh, oh, ah, ah, oh, oh ♫ ♫ Have you ever stared
into a starry sky? ♫ ♫ Have you ever been out
walking in the snow? ♫ ♫ Tried to get back where
you were before ♫ ♫ You always end up ♫ ♫ Not knowing where to go ♫ ♫ If you’ve ever been out
walking in the snow ♫ ♫ Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh ♫ ♫ Aah, ah, aah, ah, aah ♫ ♫ Ah, ah, oh, ah, ah, oh, ah ♫ ♫ Oh, ah, ah, ah ♫ ♫ Ah, ah, oh, ah, ah, oh, oh ♫ ♫ If you’d ever been out
walking you would know ♫ (Applause) Paul Nicklen: Thank you very much.
The show’s not over. My clock is ticking. OK, let’s stop. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. We’re inundated with news all the time that the sea ice is disappearing and it’s at its lowest level. And in fact, scientists
were originally saying sea ice is going to disappear
in the next hundred years, then they said 50 years. Now they’re saying
the sea ice in the Arctic, the summertime extent is going to be gone
in the next four to 10 years. And what does that mean? After a while of reading this in the news,
it just becomes news. You glaze over with it. And what I’m trying to do
with my work is put faces to this. And I want people to understand
and get the concept that, if we lose ice, we stand to lose an entire ecosystem. Projections are that we could
lose polar bears, they could become extinct in the next 50 to 100 years. And there’s no better, sexier, more beautiful,
charismatic megafauna species for me to hang my campaign on. Polar bears are amazing hunters. This was a bear I sat with
for a while on the shores. There was no ice around. But this glacier caved into the water
and a seal got on it. And this bear swam out to that seal — 800 lb. bearded seal — grabbed it, swam back and ate it. And he was so full,
he was so happy and so fat eating this seal, that, as I approached him — about 20 feet away —
to get this picture, his only defense was to keep eating more seal. And as he ate, he was so full — he probably had about
200 lbs of meat in his belly — and as he ate inside
one side of his mouth, he was regurgitating
out the other side of his mouth. So as long as these bears
have any bit of ice they will survive, but it’s the ice that’s disappearing. We’re finding more and more
dead bears in the Arctic. When I worked on polar bears
as a biologist 20 years ago, we never found dead bears. And in the last four or five years, we’re finding dead bears
popping up all over the place. We’re seeing them in the Beaufort Sea, floating in the open ocean
where the ice has melted out. I found a couple in Norway last year.
We’re seeing them on the ice. These bears are already showing signs of the stress of disappearing ice. Here’s a mother and her two year-old cub were traveling on a ship a hundred miles
offshore in the middle of nowhere, and they’re riding
on this big piece of glacier ice, which is great for them;
they’re safe at this point. They’re not going to die of hypothermia. They’re going to get to land. But unfortunately,
95 percent of the glaciers in the Arctic are also receding right now to the point that the ice
is ending up on land and not injecting any ice
back into the ecosystem. These ringed seals,
these are the “fatsicles” of the Arctic. These little, fat dumplings, 150-pound bundles of blubber are the mainstay of the polar bear. And they’re not like
the harbor seals that you have here. These ringed seals also
live out their entire life cycle associated and connected to sea ice. They give birth inside the ice, and they feed on the Arctic cod
that live under the ice. And here’s a picture of sick ice. This is a piece of multi-year ice
that’s 12 years old. And what scientists didn’t predict
is that, as this ice melts, these big pockets
of black water are forming and they’re grabbing the sun’s energy and accelerating the melting process. And here we are diving
in the Beaufort Sea. The visibility’s 600 ft.;
we’re on our safety lines; the ice is moving all over the place. I wish I could spend half
an hour telling you about how we almost died on this dive. But what’s important in this picture
is that you have a piece of multi-year ice, that big chunk of ice up in the corner. In that one single piece of ice, you have 300 species of microorganisms. And in the spring,
when the sun returns to the ice, it forms the phytoplankton,
grows under that ice, and then you get bigger sheets of seaweed, and then you get the
zooplankton feeding on all that life. So really what the ice does is it acts like a garden. It acts like the soil in a garden.
It’s an inverted garden. Losing that ice is like
losing the soil in a garden. Here’s me in my office. I hope you appreciate yours. This is after an hour under the ice. I can’t feel my lips; my face is frozen; I can’t feel my hands;
I can’t feel my feet. And I’ve come up, and all I wanted
to do was get out of the water. After an hour in these conditions, it’s so extreme that, when I go down, almost every dive I vomit into my regulator because my body can’t deal
with the stress of the cold on my head. And so I’m just so happy
that the dive is over. I get to hand my camera to my assistant, and I’m looking up at him,
and I’m going, “Woo. Woo. Woo.” Which means, “Take my camera.” And he thinks I’m saying,
“Take my picture.” So we had this little
communication breakdown. (Laughter) But it’s worth it. I’m going to show you pictures
of beluga whales, bowhead whales, and narwhals, and polar bears,
and leopard seals today, but this picture right here means more
to me than any other I’ve ever made. I dropped down in this ice hole,
just through that hole that you just saw, and I looked up under
the underside of the ice, and I was dizzy;
I thought I had vertigo. I got very nervous —
no rope, no safety line, the whole world is moving around me — and I thought, “I’m in trouble.” But what happened
is that the entire underside was full of these billions
of amphipods and copepods moving around and feeding
on the underside of the ice, giving birth and living out
their entire life cycle. This is the foundation of the whole food chain
in the Arctic, right here. And when you have low
productivity in this, in ice, the productivity in copepods go down. This is a bowhead whale. Supposedly, science is stating that it could be the oldest living animal
on earth right now. This very whale right here
could be over 250 years old. This whale could have been born around the start
of the Industrial Revolution. It could have survived
150 years of whaling. And now its biggest threat
is the disappearance of ice in the North because of the lives
that we’re leading in the South. Narwhals, these majestic narwhals with their eight-foot long ivory tusks,
don’t have to be here; they could be out on the open water. But they’re forcing themselves
to come up in these tiny little ice holes where they can breathe, catch a breath, because right under that ice
are all the swarms of cod. And the cod are there because they are feeding
on all the copepods and amphipods. Alright, my favorite part. When I’m on my deathbed, I’m going to remember
one story more than any other. Even though that spirit bear
moment was powerful, I don’t think I’ll ever have
another experience like I did with these leopard seals. Leopard seals, since the time of Shackleton,
have had a bad reputation. They’ve got that wryly smile
on their mouth. They’ve got those black sinister eyes and those spots on their body. They look positively prehistoric
and a bit scary. And tragically in [2003], a scientist was taken down
and drowned, and she was being consumed
by a leopard seal. And people were like, “We knew
they were vicious. We knew they were.” And so people love to form their opinions. And that’s when I got a story idea: I want to go to Antarctica, get in the water with as many
leopard seals as I possibly can and give them a fair shake — find out if they really are these vicious
animals, or if they’re misunderstood. So this is that story. Oh, and they also happen
to eat Happy Feet. (Laughter) As a species, as humans,
we like to say penguins are really cute, therefore, leopard seals eat them,
so leopard seals are ugly and bad. It doesn’t work that way. The penguin doesn’t know it’s cute, and the leopard seal doesn’t
know it’s kind of big and monstrous. This is just the food chain unfolding. They’re also big. They’re not these little harbor seals. They are 12 ft. long, a thousand pounds. And they’re also curiously aggressive. You get 12 tourists packed into a Zodiac, floating in these icy waters, and a leopard seal comes up
and bites the pontoon. The boat starts to sink, they race back to the ship and get to go home and tell
the stories of how they got attacked. All the leopard seal was doing — it’s just biting a balloon. It just sees this big balloon in the ocean —
it doesn’t have hands — it’s going to take a little bite,
the boat pops, and off they go. (Laughter) So after five days of crossing
the Drake Passage — isn’t that beautiful — after five days of crossing
the Drake Passage, we have finally arrived at Antarctica. I’m with my Swedish assistant and guide. His name is Goran Ehlme
from Sweden — Goran. And he has a lot of experience
with leopard seals. I have never seen one. So we come around the cove
in our little Zodiac boat, and there’s this monstrous leopard seal. And even in his voice, he goes,
“That’s a bloody big seal, ya.” (Laughter) And this seal is taking
this penguin by the head, and it’s flipping it back and forth. And what it’s trying to do
is turn that penguin inside-out, so it can eat the meat off the bones, and then it goes off and gets another one. And so this leopard seal
grabbed another penguin, came under the boat, the Zodiac, starting hitting the hull of the boat. And we’re trying to not fall in the water. And we sit down,
and that’s when Goran said to me, “This is a good seal, ya. It’s time for you to get in the water.” (Laughter) And I looked at Goran,
and I said to him, “Forget that.” But I think I probably used a different word
starting with the letter “F.” But he was right. He scolded me out,
and said, “This is why we’re here. And you purposed this stupid story
to National Geographic. And now you’ve got to deliver. And you can’t publish excuses.” So I had such dry mouth — probably not as bad as now — but I had such, such dry mouth. And my legs were just trembling.
I couldn’t feel my legs. I put my flippers on.
I could barely part my lips. I put my snorkel in my mouth, and I rolled over the side
of the Zodiac into the water. And this was the first thing she did. She came racing up to me,
engulfed my whole camera — and her teeth are up here
and down here — but Goran, before I had gotten in the water,
had given me amazing advice. He said, “If you get scared,
you close your eyes, ya, and she’ll go away.” (Laughter) So that’s all I had to work
with at that point. But I just started to shoot these pictures. So she did this threat display
for a few minutes, and then the most amazing thing happened —
she totally relaxed. She went off, she got a penguin. She stopped about 10 feet away from me, and she sat there with this penguin,
the penguin’s flapping, and she let’s it go. The penguin swims toward me, takes off. She grabs another one.
She does this over and over. And it dawned on me
that she’s trying to feed me a penguin. Why else would she release
these penguins at me? And after she did this four or five times, she swam by me
with this dejected look on her face. You don’t want to be too anthropomorphic,
but I swear that she looked at me like, “This useless predator’s
going to starve in my ocean.” (Laughter) So realizing I couldn’t catch
swimming penguins, she’d get these other penguins
and bring them slowly towards me, bobbing like this,
and she’d let them go. This didn’t work. I was laughing so hard and so emotional that my mask was flooding,
because I was crying underwater, just because it was so amazing. And so that didn’t work. So then she’d get another penguin
and try this ballet-like sexy display sliding down this iceberg like this. (Laughter) And she would sort of bring them
over to me and offer it to me. This went on for four days. This just didn’t happen a couple of times. And then so she realized
I couldn’t catch live ones, so she brought me dead penguins. (Laughter) Now I’ve got four or five penguins
floating around my head, and I’m just sitting there shooting away. And she would often stop
and have this dejected look on her face like, “Are you for real?” Because she can’t believe
I can’t eat this penguin. Because in her world,
you’re either breeding or you’re eating — and I’m not breeding, so … (Laughter) And then that wasn’t enough;
she started to flip penguins onto my head. She was trying to force-feed me.
She’s pushing me around. She’s trying to force-feed my camera, which is every photographer’s dream. And she would get frustrated;
she’d blow bubbles in my face. She would, I think, let me know
that I was going to starve. But yet she didn’t stop. She would not stop
trying to feed me penguins. And on the last day with this female where I thought I had pushed her too far, I got nervous because she came up to me, she rolled over on her back, and she did this deep, guttural
jackhammer sound, this gok-gok-gok-gok. And I thought, she’s about to bite. She’s about to let me know
she’s too frustrated with me. What had happened
was another seal had snuck in behind me, and she did that to threat display. She chased that big seal away,
went and got its penguin and brought it to me. (Laughter) That wasn’t the only seal
I got in the water with. I got in the water
with 30 other leopard seals, and I never once had a scary encounter. They are the most remarkable animals
I’ve ever worked with, and the same with polar bears. And just like the polar bears, these animals depend
on an icy environment. I get emotional. Sorry. It’s a story that lives deep in my heart, and I’m proud to share this with you. And I’m so passionate about it. Anybody want to come with me
to Antarctica or the Arctic, I’ll take you; let’s go. We’ve got to get the story out now.
Thank you very much. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) Thank you. Thanks very much. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause)


Reader Comments

  1. I met Paul Nicklen today on a school field trip. He is such a nice guy… Down to earth and very passionate about hes work.. He is amazing

  2. One of the best TED talks ever! What a story teller! If you don't watch it through to the end, you are really missing something. I laughed so hard I think I traumatized the neighbor's cat. lol 

  3. I love how he calls the seals fat little dumplings.  That seal really looks like it too.  Loved this very insightful.  Wish it was an hour long.

  4. Man, this is better than cable. Thank God for that man's passion and National Geographic for the pictures. Incredible world in the Iceland.

  5. You Are Cordially Invited To Visit My Exquisite Online Souvenir Store Featuring Many Beautiful Countries And Famous Sights.   http://www.zazzle.com/cattilovebugg

  6. I'm glad I hunted for a video on this piece when I stumbled upon some pictures of the seal story. This is the most amazing story I've ever seen. Better than any book I've read or any movie I've watched. :') I realized I teared up in the end. Again, love this piece. Thank you for bring us something so amazing and powerful.

  7. Indeed thank you Paul….. You've got a big pair on ya!  I'd been paralyzed with fear sitting in the boat never mind getting in that terribly cold water.  Good luck in your spreading the word but I fear we're past the point of no return.  In another 20-30 yrs sea ice maybe a thing of the recent past during the summer months.

  8. Beautiful video, the Polar regions are seriously endangered and all the species that live in as well. Is sad, many people could do something supporting entities and donating so people like Paul keeps doing his work with all our support . They are magnificient creatures

  9. Fascinating story and amazing photography along with 
    a very important message about the pending climate change.

  10. I hate to be that guy trying to sell a cause on the internet, but if this talk has inspired you to take action.  Groups from around the world are petitioning right now for better laws to stop global warming.  here is the link.  https://secure.avaaz.org/en/100_clean_final/?copy

  11. Good speak, fantastic pictures. That scientists didn't predict that black pockets of water will cause the ice to melt faster is pure BS though. The role of the Earth's Albedo has been known  for a long time. What's quite recent though is the enourmous amounts of Methane gas being released from the melting Siberian tundra, and from formerly frozen ocean-bottoms. Since Methane is a much more potent green-house gas than Carbon Dioxide, it is really worrying.

  12. Shoot, I'll go!!! I don't know the first thing about diving, or that kind of environment, but you can't deny the beauty of the animals and their natural habitat and it would be a tragedy of the utmost proportion for all that to disappear forever. :'(

  13. Thank you Paul for sharing your talent with others and myself….I have no words to express. You have a great gift!!! Also check out man made weasons….could be AKA global warming…

  14. And obama just let shell go drill oil in the arctic..these greedy bastards are gonna kill us all..could americans please do anything about it? Cant we stop it??

  15. So let me see if I've got this straight: There is not enough Ice except for the Narwhals and there is too much ice for them. I am very passionate for saving our environment but this is propaganda masked as something totally different. PS- I don't need a Bible thumping atheist to tell me where I'm wrong or set me straight with respect to my comment.

  16. Wonderful story and such an amazing work I wish I had half of adventured he has had. Still cant understand the 22 dislikes I guess depressive people have nothing else to do.

  17. 解説にないので、まだ知らない方のために補足します。
    体長4メートルにもなるヒョウアザラシの撮影に出かけ、ヒョウアザラシから熱心にペンギンをプレゼントされる、素敵で美しい物語です。

  18. Wow… Its 2019 and ALL the ice is still there… He must have been dating AOC at the time? Miss guided sole 💔😢

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *