Swimming Polar Bear
Air Date: Week of August 2, 2013
(Mark Seth Lender)
Shrinking sea ice in the arctic is threatening the survival of polar bears. But writer Mark Seth Lender came across one polar bear that was very much a survivor.
CURWOOD: The breadth and depth of arctic sea ice is rapidly diminishing, and the reality of the threat to polar bears is growing almost daily it seems. In early July of this year, Mark Seth Lender joined Adventure Canada in Hudson Strait and found a polar bear swimming along the floe edge. The encounter was not what he, or maybe the bear, expected.
LENDER: There is a polar bear swimming through the slush at the edge of the floe. This year’s ice and last year’s ice and the porous remnant of a berg. All that melt, dispersed, makes the sea air cold. The bear, only head and face and sometimes the highpoint of his backbone above water looks cold although he is working too hard for that, trying to get away, from us. Seeing this, Gunnar Roos, the ship’s Master, cuts his engines to dead slow so there is more drift than way. To give him room. The bear… speeds up. He looks back, and his lips part in a low growl we cannot hear for the idling of the screws and the steering gear and the floebergs scrapping the steel of the hull. He turns into a channel in the ice, and disappears.
There he is again much closer. We’ve veered off, changing course; but the bear has changed course also and come out the wrong way - toward us. Now in his mind he is sure. We are after him. He is going to die. He sneers, and paddles on, faster and harder.
He is making five knots, maybe six, which seems an impossible speed and the wake breaks out behind him 40 meters in a widening V. It is too much. Even for a polar bear (who can swim without drowning 300 nautical miles). It is all being spent, right here.
The polar bear cannot give up, will not part from his will to survive, it is not in him. Nor is it in him to continue like this. In a last gambit he breaks stride and kneeing up like a child at a chair that is too high, clambers onto a flat of ice, the sea pouring out of his hair. Water cascades from his face, the underbelly and swaying paws as he half walks, half runs. Then slows…. and looks…and comes to a stop. He stands broadside to our retreating ship, the dark skin showing through beneath the saturated white of him. And his head comes up, and follows as we head away and knows that he has won.
His rest is brief and all he needs, and he clambers slowly back into the sea as polar bears have always done and swims, away, from our small sample of humanity and into the brash ice, and beyond, until he vanishes among the icebergs that are white and blue as clouds on a fragile… glass… blue… sky.
CURWOOD: To see Mark’s photos of that swimming polar bear and to follow his arctic blog, take the plunge, and head on over to our website at LOE.org.
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