The Great White Bear: A Natural & Unnatural History of the Polar Bear 1st Edition, Kindle Edition
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The bear was near the horizon when we first saw it.
A dot in the water, barely visible above the waves, it was not, initially, obviously a bear at all.
“Look at the size of that seal,” exclaimed the mate, raising binoculars and prompting the captain to do likewise.
There was a pause as the two men pondered the distant object, perhaps realized what they were looking at, dismissed the thought, returned to it, and finally conceded what was increasingly clear.
That a polar bear should be in the vicinity should not, on the face of it, have been particularly remarkable. We were, after all, anchored just off the north coast of Alaska; however one defines the Arctic — and scientists, geographers, and oceanographers debate many conflicting and complementary delineations — we were undoubtedly in the heart of it and deep within the polar bear’s realm.
Yet the initial confusion was understandable. Polar bears are creatures of the ice; but, save a few floes drifting past in the current of the Beaufort Sea, there was almost none to be seen — just mile upon mile of open water.
We had come in search of the edge of the Arctic Ocean sea ice. The boundary where open water progressively yields to its frozen counterpart is an oasis of marine life, one that our passengers, biologists from the University of Alaska, were keen to reach. But the ice edge had retreated to the north, earlier and farther than normal; it would take us many days of steaming to reach our goal. There was no way of knowing how long or how far this particular bear had been swimming, but its chances of ever finding its species’ preferred habitat were all but nonexistent.
It was a Sunday morning. The scent of freshly baked bread and of the breakfast that was cooking in the galley wafted from deck to deck and into the crisp arctic air. It filled our nostrils as we tumbled from mess room and cabins, hastily pulling on fleeces and coats, to watch as our visitor approached. The aromas stretched far beyond our green hull, wafting into the distance, their decreasing strength more than compensated for by the extra sensitivity to them on the part of the bear — which, it was increasingly clear, was not simply swimming in our direction but making a determined beeline for us.
It paddled closer, close enough that now we could see it clearly, its paws working feverishly beneath the surface of the water, its long neck straining to keep its head above the surface, its eyes fixed eagerly on the steel grail ahead of it, its small ears flat against the side of its head. A passing ice floe provided welcome respite and the bear took advantage, clambering out of the ocean, its fur thick with water. It shook itself briefly, walked from one end of the floe to the other to stay level with the ship as the ice drifted past, then plunged back into the water and paddled closer to us once more. Another floe arrived, and again the bear climbed upon it, rested there until it began to drift out of range, reentered the water, and swam toward us again.
Two or three times it repeated the process, each occasion appearing to be progressively more taxing as the bear fought to drag its waterlogged weight onto the ice, its shoulders seeming to sag ever so slightly with each repetition and the growing realization that any hope it might have had of clambering on board was destined not to be realized.
Eventually, it gave up. Having hauled itself onto a passing floe for perhaps the third or fourth time, it chose not to subject itself anymore to the rigors of swimming in the Beaufort Sea on a hapless quest. Its mouth open, it tore away its gaze, looking alternately down at the ice beneath its feet and into the distance, anywhere, it seemed, except directly at the object of its desire and frustration. And we watched as it stood there, forlorn and defeated, drifting into the distance.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
- ASIN : B004FN21QO
- Publisher : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1st edition (January 12, 2011)
- Publication date : January 12, 2011
- Language : English
- File size : 1845 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Not Enabled
- Print length : 285 pages
- Page numbers source ISBN : 0547152426
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #867,922 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I always love finding out more about animals and have been interested in polar bears and their welfare, but really wasn't that well informed. It seemed like a great opportunity to read a book about polar bears by a journalist and environmental activist such as Kieran Mulvaney. I wasn't disappointed as The Great White Bear is easily readable for the non-scientist. One can learn much about the habits, the biology and the impact that the changing arctic landscape has on the polar bear. I was delighted to learn about the hunting habits of this great wandering bear. I found it intriguing to learn that this bear is deliberately slow lest it overheat. That and many other interesting tidbits can be found in this book.
Also worth reading are the many "bear stories" and I really liked the ones which were set in Churchill. Here is one which I found entertaining:
Next to us sat Bill Callahan, American by birth but a resident of Churchill for twenty-eight years.
He, too, had a bear story.
Evidently, a community of 800 people is, for Bill somewhat suffocating, so he lives in a cabin outside of town. It makes for plenty of peace and quiet; but he says, "I sometimes get some interesting visitors."
One night the previous year, a sow with cubs had pushed through his front door and entered his kitchen while he slept. Placing her paw on the stove in an apparent attempt to reach a loaf of bread that was above it the sow pressed the button that lit the burner, singed her paw, recoiled banged into the wall and crashed out through the now open doorway, cubs in tow. Having somehow dozed through the breaking down of his door and the presence of three polar bears in his kitchen, Bill was awakened by the sound of the sow thumping into the kitchen wall. Fully naked but half-conscious, he stood in the kitchen doorway, the chaos not fully apparent to him, the scene lit only by the glow from the stove, prompting Bill initially to wonder how he could have gone to bed and left the gas flame burning.
I believe that it is the wonderful mix of bear stories with the facts and details about the polar bears' life, environment and biology which make this book so readable. I read it as quickly as a novel and yet the wonder of the arctic and the polar bear have stayed with me. I would encourage anyone with an interest in polar bears to read it.
Top reviews from other countries
Of all the carnivores on top of the food chain, such as Orcas, Great white Shark, Siberian and Royal Bengal Tigers, Lions, Grizzly bears, etc., only Polar Bears seem to stalk and hunt humans as if a monster from one of those Halloween movies coming to life. I always wondered why is that. Is it because Polar bears are perennially hungry or that they cannot differentiate humans from seals? I ordered this book from Amazon to learn about the only carnivore I will not venture to get close to observe all by myself.
Needless to mention, the book did not disappoint me. Mulvaney does a marvelous job of getting the reader involved with the life of the bears by following first a mother and her two cubs and then the two cubs as they grew into sub-adults fending for themselves. He does not limit the matter to Polar Bears. He educates readers on the Arctic and the Antarctic, characteristics of polar ice, stories of the early Arctic adventurers, the predator - prey relationship, bears' volatile relationship with humans, and towards the ending parts, how the pollution and changes in the environment may one day lead to the extinction of this most beautiful animal.
I have read many books on animals, but this is one of the easiest to read and follow. The script and quality of the paper is reader friendly and there are some beautiful pictures too. Most of the research is secondary and hearsay from the native population and has been told in an interesting and fun to read manner.
I could not help getting a tad emotional when at one point Mr. Mulvaney asks those on so called Safari tours in the Arctic to "Look at the Polar Bear before you, and marvel at him. Now close your eyes and imagine you are a future inhabitant here, unable to see this Great Bear, as he no longer exists".
The only reason I was initially hesitant in giving it 5 stars is that it is not as intense as some of the other books I have read, although there were ingredients like following a family of Polar Bears to do so.