Napping With the Walruses on Arctic Ice

Showing city people the mysterious paradise they're helping destroy.

ByABC News
December 10, 2009, 8:30 PM

Dec. 11, 2009— -- "You can think you're buddies with a walrus one minute and the next minute it's trying to kill you," Arctic photographer Paul Nicklen said. "I would rather get in the water with a great white shark, than a walrus."

Then he went on to tell us how to do it -- or, at least, how he does it.

"I will sometimes spend 24, 48, 72 hours sitting on an ice pan with a group of walruses," he told ABC News. "I will get to know these walruses to the point they get so relaxed with me that I can rest my head against a walrus and fall asleep with them on the ice. Then one of them slips into the water, and it won't feel threatened by me. I can slip into the water with it and get a couple of shots."

Now 41, Nicklen has lived in the high Arctic since he was 4 when his parents moved to Baffin Island. His playmates were Inuit kids. He went on hunting parties with the elders whenever he could.

"The snow and ice were my sandbox," he said.

His images are a stunning and unique combination of abstract beauty and the raw wild, other-worldly, in need of nothing human. Beauty, science and a dangerously warming world have all become one in the life and work of Nicklen, a biologist-turned photographer.

"Where I grew up, we had no telephone, no radio, no television. We had no distractions."

Other than the limitless Arctic nature. Nicklen is now one of National Geographic's premier photographers.

He has obviously seen deeply into the threatened world.

His arresting photo of massive polar bear tracks in the snow seems to capture time itself -- it places the power of the bear in the fragility of the disappearing icy world it needs for survival.

Nicklen prefers photos to video. "A picture is always sitting there in front of you. And I think, you know, it just takes one image to get someone's attention."

Attention is what he's desperate to get for the beautiful world he's watched change radically from the global warming he believes is human-induced for the 37 years he's lived there so far.