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Journals 2008/2009

Steve Howard
Meadowdale Middle School, Lynnwood, Washington

"Seafloor Mapping in support of the Law of the Sea
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy
August 12, 2008 - September 5, 2008
Journal Index:
August 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18
           19 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 23 - 24 - 25
           26 - 27 - 28 - 30 - 31
September 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

September 3, 2008
Night of the Polar Bear
Current Position - Long: 158 49.761 W Lat: 77 43.400 N

Our current position

I mentioned earlier in the journal about a polar bear sighting, which I heard about but sadly did not get to see. Well, late last night at about 11:00 pm I got my chance. I was sitting in bed reading, half asleep really, when an announcement came over "the pipes" that a bear was spotted off the port side bow. Afraid that I might miss it getting dressed, I had to make some snap decisions: should I take the time to put on socks? Tie my shoes? Groping in the half-light for the nearest fleece and jeans I could find, I hurried out into the Arctic air to see about twenty or more people looking out at the icescape. The sun was low on the horizon, and set a spectacular backdrop for the Polar Bear, who was I'd estimate about 200 yards from the ship. Following their pointing hands, I snapped about 15 shots and some video, but mostly just watched through my binoculars in fascination at this immense beautiful animal. Though the bear stayed with us for about a half an hour, he appeared completely unimpressed with our grand ship, looking up at us a few times but not paying much attention. A couple of times he seemed to "jump" up and down on the ice, perhaps testing it for stability to hold his considerable weight. A few on the crew tossed some meatballs off the ship, but nowhere near enough to the bear to catch his attention. Eventually, he cut in front of the ship (we had stopped to give him plenty of room) and lumbered off into the misty white, fusing slowly into the landscape.

Polar Bear crossing a lead in the ice (photo credit Steve Roberts)

Later, climbing back in bed, I had a hard time falling asleep thinking about this event. I know the temptation is to get overly poetic (and I'm working hard not to), but there was something about seeing that bear that tied this whole Arctic experience together for me. After so many days of observing all the shades, arrangements, and textures of this scenery, which can seem so hostile and barren and at the same time so compellingly beautiful; that bear completed this picture of the Arctic that has been forming in my mind in the same way that a final dab of a certain color on a canvas makes the artwork "done." To observe an animal like that, out here hundreds of miles from any land, so clearly a part of its surroundings, was one of the highlights of my trip. It will stick with me long after I get back home.

The sun sets lower on the horizon each day.