It was past midnight as the powerful Canadian icebreaker d’Iberville crushed through the ten-foot-thick sea-ice of the Arctic Archipelago. But here, on the top of the world at north latitude 80 degrees, there was still enough light to see the huge polar bear. He had obviously just finished eating a seal. A very big seal by the look of the bloodstained surface of the ice hummock upon which he was lying. And a big seal by his sleepy non-reaction to the loud screeching and scraping made by our approaching ship’s two-and-a-half-inch-thick steel bow plates as they rasped aside hunks of ice as big as double-decker buses.
That two-tone bear, snow-white on top with blood-red underparts, was relaxing in exquisite post-prandial tranquillity. So, as I saw Captain Caron reach over to the whistle handle to give a sudden blast to startle the Arctic stillness and get the bear up and moving, I raised my hand in polite protest and shook my head. The captain, shrugged, smiled, and desisted from his usual practice upon seeing a bear and came over to the port side of the bridge next to me. We were now within a few hundred feet of the somnolent bear and it looked as if we would pass within little more than thirty yards of him. Yet still he didn’t move. Just raised his head a little and looked at the ship’s massive bulk through glazed, uncomprehending eyes. He must have eaten a giant of a seal.
As we passed by, the captain and I engaged the bear in an eye-to-eye exchange through our binoculars. We could make out every detail of the bear and his bloodstained coat and surroundings. The staring contest went on for several long seconds. We won. He blinked first. And for the second and third times, also. That massive meal had left him totally bereft of any antagonism or interest in anything in his field of vision, direct or peripheral.