• Paul Nicklen, a Saskatchewan-born Baffin Island-raised former biologist, is regarded as one of the world’s best wildlife photographers. (Photo: Cristina Mittermeier)

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As one of the world’s best wildlife photographers, Paul Nicklen has seen more than his fair share of tooth, claw and flipper. The Saskatchewan-born, Baffin Island-raised former biologist (below, at his home in Nanoose Bay, B.C.) has braved everything from icy waters to lush rainforests, to capture jaw-dropping images of swimming polar bears, hungry leopard seals, airborne penguins and British Columbia’s elusive spirit bears. His awardwinning work — for which he recently scooped first prize in the World Press Photo nature category in 2013 and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award in 2012 — allows us to see species we might not otherwise ever catch a glimpse of, surviving in what’s becoming an increasingly uncertain landscape.

Here, along with his own explanation of what makes each image so powerful, are Nicklen’s favourite shots.

Antarctica's emperor penguins are powerful and graceful in the water. Compressed air trapped in their feathers when they dive expands as they ascend, creating tiny bubbles that act as a lubricant. That reduces drag and allows the birds to rocket out of the water at high speed, avoiding predators.

The spirit bear — a black bear with a genetic mutation that makes its coat white — is only found in British Columbia, and often gorges on crab apples.

In Antarctica's Ross Sea, hundreds of emperor penguins raced by and around me, leaving beautiful bubble trails as they headed for a hole in the sea ice that was barely larger than an average hotel room. The penguins move so quickly that it's easy to understand why it's almost impossible for predators such as leopard seals to outswim or outmanoeuvre them.

The leopard seal has a reputation for being unfriendly and aggressive. But when I was in Antarctica, this female tried to feed me dead penguins.

Walruses tend to travel in groups, as they were when I photographed them near Igloolik, Nunavut.

I also managed to capture a walrus alone.

They're incredibly intelligent and highly social animals, but also dangerous — I was afraid of getting gored. On South Georgia Island, in the South Atlantic, a 180-kilogram baby elephant seal kept trying to cuddle up to me, which made getting this shot particularly challenging.