Farewell to a Master Guide, Polar Bear Whisperer
We first met wilderness guide Andy MacPherson almost eight years ago when Oceans North began studying beluga whales in the Seal River estuary of Western Hudson Bay. Our job was to film the work being done by the scientific team – and Andy’s job was to introduce us to this spectacular region, and make sure we stayed safe while documenting the importance of this marine habitat. In the intervening years, we came to rely on his unfailing patience and knowledge of the land. In short, he became a friend.
Now we are mourning the sudden loss of Andy, who died on January 30 at age 51. At the time, he was based in Ucluelet, B.C. and had worked as a guide manager for Churchill Wild for more than a decade.
Over the years, we’ve taken thousands of photos of Andy’s back – literally! And for good reason. He was always the calm, collected one out in front of our group, guiding us, scanning for polar bears, and driving the zodiac. Often, he was all that stood between us and a bear as we shot video of belugas for Oceans North to help advance their work. One of the world’s largest summer migrations of beluga whales takes place in Western Hudson Bay, a region that has been proposed for a new national marine conservation area.
Andy was a true guide, striking the perfect balance in how he operated. He put the wellbeing of wildlife before our needs, and prioritized our goals over his. Always up for a talk, the man had conversational range, schooling us in topics ranging from polar expeditions to the ingenuity of Inuit who live in this region to marine conservation to animal behaviour to plant life. Gentle and nuanced with humans and wildlife alike, Andy commanded respect, not only because of what he knew, but because of how he communicated. He treaded as lightly with people as he did on the land.
We send our deepest condolences to Andy’s family and friends. We’ll miss him immeasurably. And forever expect to see his smiling face when we get off the plane at Seal River and hear him say, “Oh no, not you guys again!”
Chris Petkau and Trevor Gill are two of the co-founders of Build Films and have worked with Oceans North for more than a decade to create videos that advance marine conservation.