3/3/2011 6:21:23 PM

Spy Cams Reveal Polar Bear's Secret World

Polar bear puts his nose to the cameraTune into 60 Minutes on CBS Sunday to get closer than ever before to polar bears. With the help of disguised cameras, the story captures their curiosity and playfulness—and a rare deep dive for lunch. Can't wait until Sunday? You can watch an excerpt here.

Filmmakers have been getting closer and closer to nature for decades, but new spy cameras are showing animals like you've never seen them before. In the case of polar bears, they come so close that noses touch lenses, paws play with cameras disguised as snow boulders, and in a rare shot, a bear dives deep for a whale-meat lunch.

Bob Simon reports from the Arctic Circle on a wildlife documentary maker's "Spy on the Ice" techniques for a 60 Minutes story to be broadcast Sunday, March 6 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo ©Daniel J. Cox/Natural Exposures

The documentary maker, John Downer, says his technique enables an effect that's nearly impossible to achieve with humans using long lenses from nearby. "The thing about a spy-cam is it actually gets you close to the animals ...gives you a whole different perspective," he tells Simon. "It is like a secret world."

Simon and his crew accompanied Downer and his crew to the Arctic Circle in an icebreaker to record him making his documentary, "Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice," to be shown next week on Animal Planet in the U.S. In one scene, Downer sets up a camera masquerading as a clump of snow and another in the water disguised as a small iceberg next to a submerged whale carcass that a polar bear was apparently aware of. "I think now is the time to go, the bear is getting closer," says Downer. He and Simon quickly retreated to their boat a hundred yards away, leaving the bear and her cubs alone to do what bears would normally do if humans were not in their midst.

"Spying" on the bear using remote-controlled cameras gave them and their soon-to-be audience a special experience. "Fantastic. There she comes and feeds," exclaims Downer, as the camera gets the polar bear diving down and swimming the length of the whale carcass to find the remaining meat. He surfaces with a large chunk and eats it. "It's done exactly what we wanted exactly on time," Downer tells Simon.

Meanwhile, it got even better onshore. The bear's cub got curious about the strange "clump of snow." It approaches the camera and looks into it, inches away. 

His spy-cams were so successful, they even captured polar bear cubs emerging from their dens for the first time, to peer into a funny looking pile of snow that wasn't really snow at all. Downer's spy-cams have also produced amazing films on elephants, lions, tigers, pandas and the wildebeest migration in Kenya.

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