National Geographic : 1991 Jul
NO ONE SLEEPS when a polar bear is known to lurk in the neighbor hood of camp. Fear less, wide-ranging hunters, polar bears will seldom pass up the chance to investigate a possi ble source of food. Fortunately, the time a bear did boldly approach my camp one sunlit night, I was accompanied by a team of dogs. The dogs rushed out to confront the intruder and, by means of feigned charges and loud barking, managed to drive the bear away. To my amaze ment, not a single dog was injured. One of the world's largest land carnivores, the polar bear pursues its quarry on ice and in water as well. After checking out our camp, the bear escaped across a lead, its wet fur plas tered against 500 pounds of hungry intent (bottom, left). A layer of fat as thick as four and a half inches helps keep a polar bear buoyant, an especially use ful trait when it swims under ice stalking seals, its preferred prey, or when it attacks the occasional small whale or walrus. Ursus maritimus-the mari time bear-spends most of its time on sea ice. The bears may hunt straight through the win ter, but pregnant females retreat to snow dens. In spring they emerge with their cubs, usually twins, already several months old.OnedayIsawapairof cubs learning from their mother how to ambush seals on the ice. As my armed Inuit companions and I came closer, the protective mother took off with her cubs (far right). The trio dived into the water, shortly to regain the safety of an ice floe. "When you come upon a polar bear, there's a feeling of mutual respect," Glenn Williams told me. "You really don't want to test each other." Amen to that.