The Great Polar Bear Feast (Channel 4 5 Dec at 8.00pm)

Polar bears on the shores of Barter Island, near the village of Kaktovik, Alaska.

AIRDATE: Saturday 5 December 2015 at 8.00pm on Channel 4 | 60 minutes

This programme reveals the astonishing story of an annual phenomenon that occurs in early September in northern Alaska. Every year, up to 80 polar bears gather on the frozen shores of Barter Island, near the village of Kaktovik, to feast on hunter-harvested bowhead whale remains.

This extraordinary gathering is highly unusual not least because polar bears are known as solitary predators, rarely if ever moving in a group. With more and more polar bears turning up each year, scientists are determined to find out how the bears know to come to this remote island at exactly this time of year. And what is happening to the polar bears of the South Beaufort Sea to make so many of them desert the ice for land? The programme follows the journeys of two polar bear mothers, Anyu and Nanook, who face a terrible dilemma as to how to keep themselves and their cubs alive: either stay on the shore and face the threat from humans, or head north on a mammoth journey, following the sea ice. But as climate change means the sea ice is retreating further north over deeper ocean, where food is hard to find, can Nanook find enough food to sustain her and her cub?

Their extraordinary story can be told thanks to the work of scientist Todd Atwood, the lead polar bear scientist for the US Geological Survey. Each spring he heads out by helicopter to find polar bears and their cubs on the ice, tranquilises them, assesses their health and fits GPS tracking collars, some of which have tiny video cameras attached. With the help of this ‘polar-cam’, he tracks the bears through the subsequent months, getting closer to the truth about their extraordinary lives than ever before.

Executive Producer: Alan Hayling
Producers and Directors: Nick Clarke-Powell, Andrew Graham-Brown
Production Company: Renegade Pictures