Amazing Photo of a Polar Bear Swimming and the Story Behind It


Frenchman Joe Bunni is not a photographer; first and foremost he’s a dentist. Once you learn that, the fact that he captured the above photo and won the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year award in 2011 is even more incredible. The photo shows a polar bear swimming not more than a few feet away from Bunni, and if you think the photo is amazing, wait until you hear the story behind it.

The hard-earned money Bunni makes fixing cavities goes towards financing amazing wildlife photography trips. It was on one such trip in Repulse Bay, Nunavut, Canada, after an encounter with an aggressive mother bear followed by three fruitless days on a small boat looking for a lone bear, that Bunni finally ran into this female.

They hung around at a distance until the bear got used to their presence, after which Bunni took his Nikon D2X (safe in its Aquatica housing) put on a mask and some flippers, and got in the water with a polar bear. Italics don’t do this act justice.


Once he was in the water, the polar bear swam towards him, and for 20 minutes Bunni was able to take photo after photo of the incredible creature as she checked out the situation. It was then that the bear caught sight of her reflection in the Aquatica housing, approached, and pushed her nose against it. This startled her, and as she backed up Bunni snapped the award-winning photograph.

The encounter ended when the bear pressed its gigantic paw against the housing — as if saying “okay, I’m outta here” — turned around, and left.

Speaking about the experience to the Natural History Museum, Bunni says “It’s amazing when a huge, powerful animal comes up beside you.” With all due respect, we think he meant terrifying … it’s terrifying. To see more of Dr. Bunni’s amazing wildlife photography, visit his website by clicking here.

Image credit: Photograph by Joe Bunni and used with permission

  • Greg McKay

    No offense but isn’t that incredibly dangerous and how shall I say this politely….STUPID?
    Also, how do we know he really did this? Maybe the camera was just lowered into the water on a pole from the safety of the boat….

  • Richard

    Fantastic images and story. Wow.

  • Dr.Mann

    Haters gonna hate, potatoes gonna potate.

  • harumph

    It’s an amazing shot, but it’s more amazing that the guy didn’t get killed.

  • Jason

    The world would be a dull place, and the human race wouldn’t advance without the people that take risks (Marie Curie, and test pilots are examples that spring to mind). If he wants to do something that others think is stupid, and if it hurts nobody but himself, then I think he’s a right to do it.

    No, I don’t think he lowered the camera on a pole, I think he’s a dab hand with an airbrush… ;-)

  • brandon

    maybe your odds are 50/50 that you will either get killed doing it, or get an amazing shot. me, i have a family, i’m not doing it, but when others do i’ll look and say wow! when they get “darwined” i’ll look and say wow!

  • Sterling

    Amazing photo…

  • Dave

    Some photographers push the envelope. Some sit behind a keyboard and criticize their accomplishments.

  • Joel Ruiz Cantisani

    loved your comment Dave!

  • Gord

    Because its not like the shot would be any less great if he said “it was a camera on a pole”. The shot is still the shot, it’s just an interesting story that accompanies it.

  • Mantis

    Dude is lucky to be alive. Remember, when confronted by a bear…

    If it’s brown, lay down.
    If it’s black, fight back.
    If it’s white, say goodnight.

  • Ben


  • Anthony Rose

    To be safe, don’t get out of bed in the morning.
    The only other alternative is to take calculated risks.
    If you can’t calculate them, at least don’t criticize those who can.

  • gyglygirl

    love it. what a massive animal! really powerful but vulnerable.

  • Electrofairy

    I would say he IS a photographer. Why can’t he be both, a dentist and a photographer? He has experience in photographing and did several wildlife trips as you said in this article. So why point out that he’s not actually earning his money only by being a photog? Image & story are great :)