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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Standing Bear Comes in Peace

Air Date: Week of

A female polar bear awakes from her slumber and notices the ship where Mark Seth Lender and other passengers are watching her (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Where there is sea ice, polar bears enjoy the eternal days of the Arctic summer, and one young female seems perfectly at ease – until a strange floating object across the pack ice catches her curiosity. Living on Earth’s Resident Explorer Mark Seth Lender describes her reaction to the ship and the humans who are curiously watching her.


CURWOOD: With cold places in mind, there’s news from the other end of the globe in Antarctica, where a massive iceberg that was hanging by a thread – or at least by a fragile snow bridge - to the Larsen C ice sheet has broken free, liberating a trillion tons of ice to float away in the southern ocean. When he was down there Living on Earth’s explorer in residence, Mark Seth Lender took some pictures of a fragment of another vast tabular iceberg, the size of Central Park, and over 100 feet high. You’ll see his photos at our website LOE.org and also some of a polar bear, displaying its remarkable strategic skill on the archipelago of Svalbard, inside the Arctic Circle. Polar bears often feign indifference as a hunting technique, ignoring their intended prey, and showing greater interest in something else. But sometimes, they aren’t even hunting.

The bear opens her mouth wide in an expression of surprise -- no animosity, says Mark Seth Lender. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Standing Bear Comes in Peace
© 2017 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

LENDER: The sun will not set for another 3 months to which the polar bears are indifferent. The floe edge rumbles and rolls in the swell, beneath them. As long as there is ice, everything is all right with them.

At the brink of a wide lead where the ocean is blackened by the depth, a bear spreads out like a big white sack, all size and not a lot of shape as if she fell, flat, from a headlong fall. Arms by her sides. Palms of her enormous paws turned up, each a great dipper set as if to capture rain, or snow. She yawns. Rolls onto her side, reclined like a diva on a couch. Only then does she focus on the ship resting in open water across the pack ice.

The bear is young. Her whiteness gives that away (like us polar bears yellow with age). This, and her girth, her density which is less than it will become. And her lack of scars. She is expressionless from afar, walking, in the ambling, business-like way, of polar bears. Gazing, not left or right as they usually do but only toward the ship, eyes more wide the closer that she comes.

The polar bear swims towards the ship (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

And takes a drink from the meltwater that puddles on the ice.

And stops alongside.

And looks. Up. And up. Neck stretched out toward the strange new Animals who lean on the deck rail their forepaws dangling and all their faces turned, toward her.

The bilge pump disgorges and she startles and crossing her long arms right over left jogs sideways.

But does not run.

But only stares at…

Standing bear. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

This thing, the color of ice that is not ice and the bear-like creatures who are not bears standing there to look at her!

How Strange... How strange...

And rises on her enormous hind legs - to five to seven to eight feet tall - taller than a female bear is supposed to be. And stands. Mouth open in surprise and meets, the eyes, of each and every one of them.

Her lower lip juts out as polar bears do when afraid.

And down again and drinks. And drinks again.

And keeps pace.

As the ship drifts.

And the swell rolls.

And the sun burns.

And the ice melts, until Perpetual Day becomes again Perpetual Night in this place where everything is, Impermanence.

And looks…

And leaves.



To learn more about polar bears, visit Mark’s website

One Ocean Expeditions


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