I'm ready for my close-up: Incredible images taken by photographer who goes nose-to-nose with swimming polar bears

By Wil Longbottom

Don't I nose you? French conservationist Joe Bunni got within 20 inches of this polar bear as it swam up to him in the Arctic Ocean

These incredible close-ups of wild polar bears were taken by a fearless photographer as he swam just inches away from them.

While few would go within 50ft of the dangerous animals let alone nose-to-nose in the freezing Arctic Ocean, French conservationist Joe Bunni does just that - despite promising his wife he wouldn't.

Wearing only a dry-suit, snorkel and mask, he submerged himself in the two degree waters of The Nanavut in Canada and came within 20 inches of the 700lb bears.

Just chilling: Mr Bunni gets close to the animals so he can capture them part in and part out of the freezing water

On two occasions the animals came so close to the 57-year-old that they touched his waterproof camera housing with their noses.

But during one encounter he only just got away from one of the bears when it became aggressive.

Mr Bunni, from Paris, said: 'I broke all my own rules for safety and had become overconfident in my relations with these wonderful animals after having had such an amazing experience the year before.

'The encounter did not go as expected and the bear became agitated, started to growl and filled me with fear.

'I did not respect nature and the bear took a swipe at me and his powerful paw nearly tore down the boat we were in, scratching the metal.

Got any grub? This polar was less than happy with having his picture taken and began getting aggressive

The one that got away: Mr Bunni had been in the water in Repulse Bay, Nunavut, Canada, when the animal to exception to his presence and he was forced to get out quickly

'My skipper barely had time to pull me out of the water and I came within an arms length of being mauled at sea by nature's largest land predator.'

Mr Bunni, who also works as a dentist, began photographing polar bears in July 2009 when he was looking to get a split level shot of one of the animals above and below the water.

He was taken out on a 21ft steel boat to the iceberg fields and after three days of searching finally found polar bears.

After taking a few shots and allowing a female to become used to his presence, Mr Bunni then climbed into the water to get more pictures.

It was then that the animal approached him.

Fancy a dip? Despite their size, polar bears are good swimmers and few people would consider getting this close to them

Freeze: The disgruntled female turns and swims away after Mr Bunni manages to climb back on to his boat

He said: 'I submerged myself under the water so that only the camera casing was visible and my snorkel.

'The bear was too concerned with the boat, but when she saw the casing she must have seen her own reflection and thought it was another bear.

'You can see the sequence in the photographs as she approaches, touches the casing and then recoils when she realises it isn't a bear.'

Mr Bunni said he indulges his dangerous hobby to help preserve polar bears. He is writing a conservation book, '+/- 5 Metres', in association with SOS OCEANS.



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