Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Too Much For This Poor Fellow"

A REPORT from the frozen north:
Melville Bay for Upemavik. While bounding along, logging ten knots an hour, we almost ran over an immense polar bear, which was swimming in the open water, making a fierce battle with the seas, and seemingly desirous of boarding us. He was evidently much exhausted, and, seeing the vessel approach, doubtless had made at her in search of safety. The unhappy beast had probably allowed himself to be drifted off on an ice-raft which had gone to pieces under him in the heavy seas.

Although these polar bears are fine swimmers, I much feared that the waves would in the end prove too much for this poor fellow, as there was not a speck of ice in sight on which he could find shelter. As we passed, he touched the schooner's side, and Jensen, who had seized a rifle, was in the act of putting an end to his career, when I arrested his hand. The beast was making such a brave fight for his life that I would not see him shot, more especially as the waves were running too high to lower a boat for his carcass, without a risk which the circumstances did not warrant.
-- from The Open Polar Sea, by American explorer Isaac Israel Hayes, 1867

Hayes did not find the ice-free water he believed to be at the world’s crown, but to this day the faithful keep hunting for the great melt-water gullytrap. 

And polar bears keep drowning, just as they always have.


  1. Alas poor Isaac died in 1882.
    For a moment or two I could have sworn I was reading an article by a contemporary green cruisader.

    Andy B

  2. Well that makes 5 now, or a 98.6 % death rate.