National Geographic : 2019 Feb
EXPLORE | THROUGH THE LENS UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SUN, beside a hole in the Arctic ice, a polar bear found something new— Audun Rikardsen’s camera and motion sensor. The bear sniffed the camera, pawed at it, and knocked it into the water. One year later Rikard- sen went on an expedition to get it back. colleague to pilot it. We would try to find the camera. If we didn’t succeed, I would know I had at least tried. Maybe I would then be able to stop thinking about that camera. I hate to give up. When we arrived back at Hornsund fjord, we were given only four hours for the operation due to the paying customers on board. There was a lot more fjord ice in front of the glacier than there had been on the previous trip, and we wondered whether it would be safe to walk so far from the boat. As I knew well, polar bears could be nearby. We decided to risk it. The ice was so thin that it bent beneath us. We almost turned back several times, but then we managed to find a safe route to where my camera had disappeared one year earlier. Now we just had to find it. We ran into technical difficulties almost imme- diately and had to pull the ROV out of the water twice. The water was murky, so we couldn’t see to steer the ROV, and the tidal current was causing it to drift from the site. Our only chance of finding the camera was by landing the ROV on top of it, which seemed like a long shot. Then, like a miracle, on the third try the ROV found the camera. We shouted and danced around on the ice. Our celebration was premature. When we tried to grab the camera, the ROV’s cable became tangled. The claw on the ROV’s arm was less than an inch from the camera—close but not close enough to grab it. We could hear the arm scratch against the camera’s sides. Then we lost control of the ROV. The pilot was sure it was broken. I was even more frustrated than I had been the year before. I wondered if it would have been better if we had never found the camera at all. We retrieved the ROV and saw that the propellers were jammed with seaweed. We had just enough time for one more try. Amazingly we managed to place the ROV on the camera a second time. This time the claw clamped securely onto the tripod. We got the camera up on the ice, and I screamed as loudly as I could. The camera was corroded, but I managed to get the memory card out. I immediately put it into distilled freshwater to prevent further corrosion. I kept it there until I returned to the mainland. Then I contacted a company that retrieves lost electronic data in crime cases. They managed to retrieve all 149 of my photos. It was amazing to see them. I saw the polar bear breathing. I saw it licking the lens until the lens became blurry. I saw it prod the lens with its massive, furry white paw. And, at the end, I saw the looming edge of the breathing hole. Retrieving that camera is by far the most satisfying accomplishment of my photography career. I have never experienced such a massive burst of adrenaline as I did when we pulled that camera out of the water and onto the ice. j Audun Rikardsen is a nature photographer as well as a professor of freshwater and marine biology at UiT—The Arctic University of Norway. This is his first story for National Geographic.