mother polar bear and her 2 cubs

This mother polar bear and two cubs were spotted leaping between ice flows early in the cruise. (Photo courtesy of Ian MacDonald). Click image for larger view.

polar bear visitor

This solitary male bear, the inspiration for Casey Debenham’s poem, appeared by the ships bow around 2 am. His curiosity kept him near the ship for almost an hour and a half.

Night of the Bear

August 25, 2002

Casey Debenham
University of Alaska Fairbanks

Mary-Louise Timmermans
Institute for Ocean Sciences/University of Victoria

camera icon Watch video footage of polar bears on the ice. (mp4, 3.1 MB)

It was extremely early on the morning of August 25th. The ship's cook had made some wonderful snacks for all shipboard personnel, and the many of the crew and science team were in the officer’s lounge, talking about the success of the previous afternoon. The first benthic ROV dive had come back from around 2800 m, giving us an idea of some of the life that was down there. The crew of the Louis had worked another long day, and the captain thought everyone deserved a good night’s rest. He stopped the ship for the evening in the midst of an ice floe to minimize the bumps in the night.

Resting in the middle of the ice, the ship probably appears like an alien in the Arctic night. On Sunday, her lights as well as the music and lively conversations from the forward lounge must have traveled for miles across the ocean's surface. Soon there was a shout from the bow of the ship, “POLAR BEAR!!”

It seems impossible that two words can galvanize everyone into action any more quickly. Those still awake ran to their bunks to grab coats and of course, cameras. It was not long before the railing of the fore deck was crowded with people. The solitary male bear less than 100 yards from the bow showed absolutely no fear. By this time, it had heard the commotion on the bow and was sniffing the air for our scents. Then, as curiosity got the better of it, the bear moved in for a closer inspection. At one point, the bear was directly below the boat. Reaching out with its nose the massive animal touched the strange metal interloper.

The bear hung around for more than an hour. By the time most of the onlookers made there way inside, it was about 2 am, and it was starting to get dark. Inside several of us were inspired by the events of the night so we sat down, and came up with a little poem by which to remember the night.

"On the Ice"

So he sat there
Dark upon the ice
Waiting for the chance
To shine in the light
Then out of the darkness
The sound did come
Echoing off the ice
The music and the smells
Shifting through the air
Then he saw it
The brightness in the night
Flashing from the sky
But he was not afraid
Only the music danced to his soul
A new sound to his ears
A new scent to his nose
And then as it appeared
It was gone
Into the whiteness
Of the night


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