Yukoner’s wolverine pics up for ‘huge’ photojournalism award

Yukon photographer Peter Mather has won awards before for his work, but says his latest nomination is for “the Academy Awards of photojournalism.”

He’s in the running for a World Press Photo of the Year award, for a series of photos he took of wolverines on Alaska’s North Slope.

Several World Press Photo awards are handed out every year for both individual photos and photo series, in several categories. Mather’s wolverine series is nominated in the nature category.

“It’s kind of the biggest award I’ve ever been up for,” he said. “It’s huge and it’s pretty exciting.”

Mather specializes in nature and wildlife photography. Living in Yukon gives him plenty of material, he says.

“I think we have probably the highest per-capita numbers of nature photographers in the world, which is really cool,” he said.

Yukon photographer Peter Mather is in the running for a World Press Photo of the Year award, for a series of photos he took of wolverines on Alaska’s North Slope. (submitted by Peter Mather)

He decided to focus on wolverines as a photo subject, as a kind of personal challenge. The animals can be found throughout Yukon and Alaska, but not easily.

Mather grew up in Yukon and said it’s rare enough to see wolves in the wild, but he’s seen dozens of those over the years. Wolverines, though, are a whole different order.

“Before I did this wolverine project, I’d only ever come across three wolverines — they’re so rare,” Mather said.

He worked with biologists who were studying the animals in Alaska. They tracked wolverines with GPS collars and, in the process, would find others without collars.

“Like one time we found a spot where seven caribou would’ve been chased over cliffs by wolves — and then there’s all these wolverines there,” he recalled.

Other times they would spot tracks in the snow from the air and follow them to an animal. 

‘Right there with them’

Mather said he often uses remote cameras to capture his images. Sometimes he put a camera in a hole that a wolverine was using, or mounted it on a dead animal being scavenged.

Other times, he was “right there with them.”

“I try to kind of make people guess whether, OK, was this taken with a remote camera, or is this taken with the photographer right there?”

Not everybody would want to get close to a wolverine — they can be fierce animals, with strong sharp teeth and claws. But Mather said he didn’t have any scary encounters.

“It was interesting because they have that reputation for being this really, you know, angry animal, but I didn’t see it,” he said.

The World Press Photo awards will be handed out in Amsterdam next month. 

Mather thinks he’s a long shot to win. He’s competing against some heavy-hitters, including National Geographic photographers and past award winners.

“One of the guys I’m competing against has won this award, like, four times in the last 10 years — and he’s probably one of the best photographers in the history of nature photography,” Mather said.

“I’m kind of like an independent filmmaker at the Academy Awards.”

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