December 16, 2012: Fending Off Polar Bears, Taking Photos in Underwater Caves, and More

polar bear picture
Polar bears are master predators in their Arctic dominion.  But when one attacked Eric and Sarah McNair-Landry during their expedition, the duo fought back in an unexpected way.  (Photo courtesy of USFWS)

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

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In the Arctic, polar bears claim the title of alpha predator. It goes where it wants, eats what it wants, and doesn’t often take “No” for an answer. But last winter, Eric and Sarah McNair-Landry gave one polar bear exactly that answer when it decided to snack on them. The bear responded with a sneeze when Eric hit it in the nose with a short camp shovel, but eventually took their advice and moved on to easier prey. No bears or McNair-Landrys were hurt in the making of this story. Listen here.

Life on other planets are portrayed in Hollywood as creatures that resemble something like humans, whether they’re short and wrinkly like Steven Spielberg’s E.T. or drooling, scorpion-like monsters like James Cameron’s Aliens. But to astrobiologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Kevin Hand, of NASA’S Jet Propulsion Laboratory, they’re more likely to be microscopic bateria from a planet inside of our solar system. Although he doesn’t necessarily rule out deep-sea monsters. Listen here.

To encourage its citizens to work as hard as possible in this life, the USSR’s Communist Party cadres suppressed any form of organized religion or spiritualism. In the two decades since the Soviet States dissolved, shamanism has returned to Siberia and Mongolia, where its practitioners accept donations from those who need access to the spirit-domain. David Stern, author of “Masters of Ecstasy” in December 2012’s issue of National Geographic magazine, tells Boyd that people don’t choose to become shaman—the spirits choose them.  Listen here.

Academics spend hours pondering a very specific topic, and devoting many years of their lives to studying, publishing and teaching their topic. So, it’s an understatement to say that they must love their subjects. And Roger Putnam loves Yosemite’s El Capitan peak. He tells Boyd that the 3,000 foot piece of granite formed approximately 100 million years ago. He is studying the formation period of the rock, to understand how it formed, as well as how it came to be in its current shape. He has climbed the landmark fifteen times, both in the name of science and recreation. Listen here.

Did you know that the world’s tallest wooden structure stands 505 feet? Or that the most popular surgical procedure is lipoplasty? Boyd learns both in the intermittent “Did You Know?” segment.  Listen here.


National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen regularly shoots photos underwater. But he rarely does so in such a quiet environment that he has to hover inches above his subject, without being able to cause a single ripple that could stir up some shot-ruining silt. For this mission, he had to brush up on his scuba skills and spend up to five hours at a time. Listen here.

Chris Linder is a veteran of many polar expeditions. He regularly travels to the earth’s frozen polar regions to document the scientific ventures of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, whether they’re studying Adélie penguinsrescue robotic submarines trapped under sea ice, or walk around with buckets on their heads. Some of his best images are published in his book, Science on Ice: Four Polar ExpeditionsListen here.

Technology reduces the distance between people around the world, who can communicate and connect in ways that were unimaginable as recently as a few years ago. One of Traveler magazine’s “Travelers of the Year,” Diana Gross seeks to break down physical distance by giving students in Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia (among other countries) a digital voice and a global perspective by connecting them with students from around the world. LIsten here.

For many women in developing countries, many time-honored traditions aren’t evolving quickly enough. National Geographic Emerging ExplorerKakenya Ntaiya, started a school for girls in her small Kenyan hometown. Her students love the opportunities the school gives them, but men in the village were slower to warm up to her new tradition of rigorous academic training for their daughters.  Listen here.

In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd expresses his admiration for Kakenya Ntaiya’s school, and shares the story of his visit to the school. Listen here.

Justin O'Neill produces the weekly radio program National Geographic Weekend with host Boyd Matson. Check it out on on SiriusXM satellite radio (XM channel 133 Sundays at noon), subscribe to the iTunes podcast, or stream it directly to your smartphone with Stitcher Radio.

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