A strange and puzzling story is swirling through the land of the midnight sun: Polar Bears and Brown Bears, isolated from one another for millennia by geography, climate, and behavior, are suddenly appearing side-by-side – prompting Casey Anderson to embark on a fact-finding mission to the Arctic and put Brutus, his nine-hundred pound Brown Bear, through the paces of “Life as a Polar Bear” in the hopes of solving one of the natural world’s most intriguing new mysteries.
With sea ice increasingly disappearing for more of the year due to climate change, the stage is set for a remarkable contest: Brown bear vs. Polar bear. Though, in truth, this contest will undoubtedly take generations to play out in the natural world, Casey endeavors to find out: which species is the ultimate survivor? Which species is better suited for life in the Arctic’s harsh conditions? And can we predict the eventual victor in this, one of the most oddly compelling riddles of our time?
In his prior mission to Alaska, Project Kodiak, Casey sought to discover the techniques of Alaska’s coastal “fishing bears” and to attempt to teach his bear Brutus to fish “like a wild bear” in Montana. This time, inspired by the Brown Bear vs. Polar Bear challenge, Casey will again recruit Brutus to see if he can meet the serious physical challenges of “life as a Polar bear” above (and below) the surface of a frozen lake in the heart of Montana’s winter.
But first, Casey has to see and document Polar bear physiology and behavior. Here, Casey’s adventure to Barter Island takes center stage. High above the Arctic Circle, he’ll witness an area where wild Polar bears are feeding on the carcasses of a leftover whale carcass – the remnants of a traditional annual Inupiat whale hunt. And, as Casey discovers, this is one of the few documented places where grizzlies and polar bears are increasingly facing off over the whale carcasses. Will Casey witness the legendary standoff?
Furthermore, Casey is able to witness up-close the physiological adaptations that make these Polar Bears the supreme predator of the high Arctic. Aided by hollow guard hairs and giant paws with specialized traction, Polar bears excel in conditions that most Brown Bears rarely encounter in winter hibernation. To see if a Brown Bear can truly hack it in Polar bear country, Casey challenges Brutus to an incremental series of “Polar Bear Challenges.” From the relative ease of walking on a slippery ice rink to the major challenge of breaking through ice to find frozen food in the open expanse and subzero temperatures of a snowy alpine lake. Through it all, Brutus will be pushed to his physiological limits; ultimately, his performance may shed light on the possible outcomes where Brown Bears and Polar bears converge on newly forged common ground.
Casey’s journey to Alaska will also shed light on the precarious state of the Polar Bear due to the continuing effects of global warming on the availability of sea ice. Polar bears are reliant on this ice for much of their natural lifecycle. On the contrary, as the ice disappears, more habitat will open up for brown bears – thus leading to a potential “population boom” for brown bears throughout the Arctic.
As it turns out, this contest, Brown Bear vs. Polar Bear, may not have a resolution in the short-term; it will take centuries for species to evolve to fill the new niches created by a warming climate but as that process begins Casey will witness history being made. Throughout his journey, the visual grandeur of the Arctic, the power and mystery of the Polar Bear and the Brown Bear, and Casey’s illuminating perspective will combine to produce an unforgettable and spectacular finale to the latest season of America the Wild.
Be sure to tune in to America the Wild: Grizzly vs. Polar Bear tonight at 9P et/pt and check out a little sneak peek of Brutus (and a crew member) taking the polar plunge!