91              Polar Bear

                            URSUS MARITIMUS.--Linn.

                            POLAR BEAR.--WHITE BEAR.

                               PLATE XCI.--Male.

     U. Capite elongate; cranio applanato; collo longo; pilis longis mollibus,

     Head, elongated; skull, flat; neck, long; hair, long, soft, and white


     WHITE BEAR.  Marten's Spitz. Trans., p. 107.  An. 1675.
     URSUS MARITIMUS.  Lin. Syst.
     URSUS ALBUS.  Brisson, Regne, an. p. 260.
     L'OURS BLANC.  Buffon, vol. 15, p. 128.  An. 1767.
     URSUS MARINUS.  Pallas, vol. 3, p. 69.
     POLAR BEAR.  Penn. Arct. Zool., p. 53.
     URSUS MARITIMUS.  Parry's 1st voyage, Supp., p. 183.
     URSUS MARITIMUS.  Franklin's 1st voyage, p. 648.
     URSUS MARITIMUS.  Parry's 2nd voyage, Appendix, p. 288.
     URSUS MARITIMUS.  Richardson, Fauna, p. 30.
     URSUS MARITIMUS.  Scoresby's Account of the Arctic Regions.


     Head and muzzle narrow, prolonged on a straight line with the fore head,
which is flattened; snout, naked; ears, short; neck, long; body, long in
proportion to its height; soles of the hind feet equal to one-sixth of the
length of the body; hair, rigid, compact and long on the body and limbs, is from
two to three inches in length, with a small quantity of fine and woolly hair
next the skin.  The whole animal wears the appearance of great strength without
much agility.


     The naked extremity of the snout, the tongue, margins of the eyelids, and
the claws, are black; lips, purplish black; eyes, dark-brown; interior of the
mouth pale violet.  The hairs on every part of the body are of a yellowish-white


    Specimen in the Charleston Museum:--
                                                Feet     Inches.

     Head and body,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   6        9
     Tail, (vertebrae),  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .           10
     Tail to end of hair,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   1        1
     Height of ear,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .            3 3/4
     Height from shoulder,  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   3        3
     Girth around the body, .  .  .  .  .  .  .   6        3
     Girth around the hind leg,.  .  .  .  .  .   1        7
     Length of canine teeth,.  .  .  .  .  .  .            1 3/8
     Length of incisors, .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .            0 3/4

     We append the following measurements taken from specimens in the flesh, by
Capt. J. C. Ross, R.N., F.R.S., &c.:--

                                             MALE.      FEMALE.
                                            Inches.     Inches.

     Length from snout to end of tail, .  .   94          78
     Snout to shoulder, .  .  .  .  .  .  .   33.5        26.3
     Snout to occiput,  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   18.4        15.6
     Circumference before the eyes, .  .  .   20.4        15.8
     At broadest part of the head,  .  .  .   32.2        28
     At largest part of the abdomen,.  .  .   65.2        57.6
     Length of alimentary canal. .  .  .  .   61          52
     Weight,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  900lbs.     700lbs.

     The weight varies very much according to the season and condition of the
     The largest measured 101.5 inches in length, and weighed 1028 lbs.,
although in poor condition.


     We have journeyed together, friend reader, through many a deep dell, and
wild wood, through swamp and over mountain; we have stemmed the current of the
Mississippi, sailed on our broad lakes, and on the extended sea coast, from
Labrador to Mexico; we have coursed the huge buffalo over the wide prairies,
hunted the timid deer, trapped the beaver, and caught the fox; we have, in
short, already procured, figured, and described, many of our animals; and now,
with your permission, we will send you with the adventurous navigators of the
Polar Seas, in search of the White Bear, for we have not seen this remarkable
inhabitant of the icy regions of our northern coast amid his native frozen
deserts; and can therefore give you little more than such information as may be
found in the works of previous writers on his habits.  During our visit to
Labrador in 1833, we coasted along to the north as far as the Straits of
Belleisle, but it being midsummer, we saw no Polar Bears, although we heard from
the settlers that these animals were sometimes seen there; (on one occasion,
indeed, we thought we perceived three of them on an ice-berg, the distance was
too great for us to be certain), although the abundance of seals and fish of
various kinds on the shores, would have afforded them a plentiful supply of
their ordinary food.  They are doubtless drifted far to the southward on
ice-bergs from time to time, but in our voyages to and from Europe we never saw
any, although we have been for days in the ice.
     The Polar Bear is carnivorous, in fact omnivorous, and devours with equal
voracity the carcases of whales, abandoned, and drifted ashore by the waves;
seals, dead fish, vegetable substances, and all other eatable matters
obtainable, whether putrid or fresh.  Dr. RICHARDSON, in the Fauna Boreali
Americana, has given a good compiled account of this animal, and we shall lay a
portion of it before our readers.  The Dr. says :--"I have met with no account
of any Polar Bear, killed of late years, which exceeded nine feet in length, or
four feet and a-half in height.  It is possible that larger individuals may be
occasionally found:  but the greatness of the dimensions attributed to them by
the older voyagers has, I doubt not, originated in the skin having been measured
after being much stretched in the process of flaying."
     The great power of the Polar Bear is portrayed in the account of a
disastrous accident which befel the crew of BARENTZ's vessel on his second
voyage to Waigat's Straits.  "On the 6th of September, 1594, some sailors landed
to search for a certain sort of stone, a species of diamond.  During this
search, two of the seamen lay down to sleep by one another, and a White Bear,
very lean, approaching softly, seized one of them by the nape of the neck.  The
poor man, not knowing what it was, cried out "who has seized me thus behind?" on
which his companion, raising his head, said, "Holloa, mate, it is a Bear," and
immediately ran away.  The Bear having dreadfully mangled the unfortunate man's
head, sucked the blood.  The rest of the persons who were on shore, to the
number of twenty, immediately ran with their match-locks and pikes, and found
the Bear devouring the body; on seeing them, he ran upon them, and carrying
another man away, tore him to pieces.  This second misadventure so terrified
them that they all fled.  They advanced again, however, with a reinforcement,
and the two pilots having fired three times without hitting the animal, the
purser approached a little nearer, and shot the Bear in the head, close by the
eye.  This did not cause him to quit his prey, for, holding the body, which he
was devouring, always by the neck, he carried it away as yet quite entire.
Nevertheless, they then perceived that he began himself to totter, and the
purser and a Scotchman going towards him, they gave him several sabre wounds,
and cut him to pieces, without his abandoning his prey.
     In BARENTZ'S third voyage, a story is told of two Bears coming to the
carcass of a third one that had been shot, when one of them, taking it by the
throat, carried it to a considerable distance, over the most rugged ice, where
they both began to eat it.  They were scared from their repast by the report of
a musket, and a party of seamen going to the place, found that, in the little
time they were about it, they had already devoured half the carcase, which was
of such a size that four men had great difficulty in lifting the remainder.  In
a manuscript account of Hudson's Bay, written about the year 1786, by Mr. Andrew
Graham, one Of PENNANT's ablest correspondents, and preserved at the Hudson's
Bay house, an anecdote of a different description occurs.  "One of the Company's
servants who was tenting abroad to procure rabbits, (Lepus Americanus), having
occasion to come to the factory for a few necessaries, on his return to the tent
passed through a narrow thicket of willows, and found himself close to a White
Bear lying asleep.  As he had nothing wherewith to defend himself, he took the
bag off his shoulder and held it before his breast, between the Bear and him.
The animal arose on seeing the man, stretched himself and rubbed his nose, and
having satisfied his curiosity by smelling at the bag, which contained a loaf of
bread and a rundlet of strong beer, walked quietly away, thereby relieving the
man from his very disagreeable situation."
     Dr. RICHARDSON says, "They swim and dive well, they hunt seals and other
marine animals with great success.  They are even said to wage war, though
rather unequally, with the walrus.  They feed likewise on land animals, birds,
and eggs, nor do they disdain to prey on carrion, or, in the absence of this
food, to seek the shore in quest of berries and roots.  They scent their prey
from a great distance, and are often attracted to the whale vessels by the smell
of burning kreng, or the refuse of the whale blubber."
     The Dr. quotes Captain LYONS, who thus describes the mode in which the
Polar Bear surprises a seal:--"The Bear, on seeing his intended prey, gets
quietly into the water, and swims to the leeward of him, from whence, by
frequent short dives, he silently makes his approaches, and so arranges his
distance, that, at the last dive, he comes to the spot where the seal is lying.
If the poor animal attempts to escape by rolling into the water, he falls into
the bear's clutches; if, on the contrary, he lies still, his destroyer makes a
powerful spring, kills him on the ice, and devours him at leisure."  Captain
LYONS describes the pace of the Polar Bear, at full speed, as "a kind of
shuffle, as quick as the sharp gallop of a horse."
     The Polar Bear is by no means confined to the land, on the contrary he is
seldom if ever seen far inland, but frequents the fields of ice, and swims off
to floating ice or to ice-bergs, and is often seen miles from shore.
     It is said that these animals "are often carried from the coast of
Greenland to Iceland, where they commit such ravages on the flocks that the
inhabitants rise in a body to destroy them."  Captain SABINE saw one about
midway between the north and south shores of Barrow's Straits, which are forty
miles apart, although there was no ice in sight to which he could resort to rest
himself upon.  The Polar Bear is said to be able to make long leaps or springs
in the water.
     This species is found farther to the north than any other quadruped, having
been seen by Captain PARRY in his adventurous boat-voyage beyond 82 degrees of
north latitude.
     PENNANT, who collected from good authorities much information relative to
their range, states that they are frequent on all the Asiatic coasts of the
Frozen Ocean, from the mouth of the Obi eastward, and abound in Nova Zembla,
Cherry Island, Spitzbergen, Greenland, Labrador, and the coasts of Baffin's and
Hudson's Bays.  Dr. RICHARDSON says,--"They were seen by Captain PARRY within
Barrow's Straits, as far as Melville Island; and the Esquimaux to the westward
of Mackenzie river, told Captain FRANKLIN that they occasionally, though very
rarely, visited that coast.  The exact limit of their range to the westward is
uncertain, but they are said not to be known on the islands in Behring's
Straits, nor on the coast of Siberia to the eastward of Tchutskoinoss.  They are
not mentioned by LANGSDORFF and other visitors of the Northwest Coast of
America; nor did Captain BEECHEY meet with any in his late voyage to Icy Cape.
None were seen on the coast between the Mackenzie and Copper-Mine River; and
PENNANT informs us, that they are unknown along the shores of the White Sea,
which is an inlet of a similar character."
     Dr. RICHARDSON does not think that the Polar Bear is under the same
necessity for hibernating that exists in the case of the Black Bear, which feeds
chiefly on vegetable matters, and supposes that although they may all retire
occasionally to caverns in the snow, the pregnant females alone seclude
themselves for the entire winter.  In confirmation of this idea the Dr. mentions
that "Polar Bears were seen in the course of the two winters that Capt. PARRY
remained on the coast of Melville Peninsula; and the Esquimaux of that quarter
derive a considerable portion of their subsistence, not only from the flesh of
the female Bears, which they dig together with their cubs from under the snow,
but also from the males, that they kill when roaming at large at all periods of
the winter.  To this statement is added HEARNE'S account; he says:--"The males
leave the land in the winter time and go out on the ice to the edge of the open
water in search of seals, whilst the females burrow in deep snow-drifts from the
end of December to the end of March, remaining without food, and bringing forth
their young during that period; that when they leave their dens in March, their
young, which are generally two in number, are not larger than rabbits, and make
a foot-mark in the snow no bigger than a crown piece."
     "In winter," Says Mr. GRAHAM, "the White Bear sleeps like other species of
the genus, but takes up its residence in a different situation, generally under
the declivities of rocks, or at the foot of a bank, where the snow drifts over
it, to a great depth; a small hole, for the admission of fresh air, is
constantly observed in the dome of its den.  This, however, has regard solely to
the she Bear, which retires to her winter-quarters in November, where she lives
without food, brings forth two young about Christmas, and leaves the den in the
month of March, when the cubs are as large as a shepherd's dog.  If, perchance,
her offspring are tired, they ascend the back of the dam, where they ride secure
either in water or ashore.  Though they sometimes go nearly thirty miles from
the sea in winter, they always come down to the shores in the spring with their
cubs, where they subsist on seals and sea-weed.  The he Bear wanders about the
marshes and adjacent parts until November, and then goes out to the sea upon the
ice, and preys upon seals."
     The Esquimaux account of the hibernation of the Polar Bear is curious:  it
was related to Capt. LYONS by one of their most intelligent men, rejoicing in
the euphonious name of (Mr.) Ooyarrakhioo! and is as follows:--"At the
commencement of winter the pregnant bears are very fat, and always solitary.
When a heavy fall of snow sets in, the animal seeks some hollow place in which
she can lie down and remain quiet, while the snow covers her.  Sometimes she
will wait until a quantity of snow has fallen, and then digs herself a cave:  at
all events, it seems necessary that she should be covered by, and lie amongst
the snow.  She now goes to sleep, and does not wake until the spring sun is
pretty high, when she brings forth two cubs.  The cave by this time has become
much larger by the effect of the animal's warmth and breath, so that the cubs
have room to move, and they acquire considerable strength by continually
sucking.  The dam at length becomes so thin and weak, that it is with great
difficulty she extricates herself, when the sun is powerful enough to throw a
strong glare through the snow which roofs the den."  The Esquimaux affirm that
during this long confinement the Bear has no evacuations, and is herself the
means of preventing them by stopping all the natural passages with moss, grass,
or earth.  The natives find and kill the Bears during their confinement by means
of dogs, which scent them through the snow, and begin scratching and howling
very eagerly.  As it would be unsafe to make a large opening, a long trench is
cut of sufficient width to enable a man to look down and see where the bear's
head lies, and he then selects a mortal part, into which he thrusts his spear.
The old one being killed, the hole is broken open, and the young cubs may be
taken out by the hand, as, having tasted no blood, and never having been at
liberty, they are then very harmless and quiet.  Females, which are not
pregnant, roam throughout the whole winter in the same manner as the males.
     The Polar Bear is at certain seasons and under peculiar circumstances a
dangerous animal.  Like the Grizzly Bear it possesses both strength and activity
enough to render it at all times formidable.  Although, like all Bears, it
appears clumsy, can run with great swiftness either on the ground or on the ice,
and it can easily ascend the slippery sides of icebergs by the assistance of its
claws, being in the habit of mounting on their ridges and pinnacles to look out
for food or survey the surrounding fields of ice.
     When in confinement the great strength of this Bear is sometimes manifested
to the terror of the spectators.  One that was secured in a cage fronted with
rods of inch iron, bolted into a horizontal flat plate of the same metal,
several inches wide, near the bottom, and well fastened at top, in the stout oak
boarding of which the cage was constructed, one day when we were present became
enraged by the delay of his keeper in bringing his food, and seized two of the
rods with such a furious grip that one of them bent and instantly came out, when
the huge beast nearly made his escape, and was only prevented from succeeding by
the promptness of the attendants, who instantly placed the wooden front, used
when travelling, on the open part of the broken cage and closed it effectually.
This Bear, like all others we have seen caged, was very restless, and would walk
backwards and forwards in his prison-house for hours together, always turning
his head toward the bars in front, at each end of this alternating movement, and
occasionally tossing his head up and down as he walked to and fro.
     Many anecdotes are related of accidents to the crews of boats detached from
whaling vessels to kill the White Bear, and by all accounts it appears to be
exceedingly dangerous to attack this animal on the ice.  One of these accounts,
with others of a different character, we will repeat here, although they have
been published by several authors.
     Dr. SCORESBY tells us, that "a few years ago, when one of the Davis's
Strait whalers was closely beset among the ice at the 'South-west,' or on the
coast of Labrador, a Bear that had been for sometime seen near the ship, at
length became so bold as to approach alongside, probably tempted by the offal of
the provision thrown overboard by the cook.  At this time the people were all at
dinner, no one being required to keep the deck in the then immovable condition
of the ship.  A hardy fellow, who first looked out, perceiving the Bear so near,
imprudently jumped upon the ice, armed only with a handspike, with a view, it is
supposed, of gaining all the honour of the exploit of securing so fierce a
visitor by himself.  But the bear, regardless of such weapons, and sharpened
probably by hunger, disarmed his antagonist, and seizing him by the back with
his powerful jaws, carried him off with such celerity, that on his dismayed
comrades rising from their meal and looking abroad, he was so far beyond their
reach as to defy pursuit."
     An equally imprudent attack made on a Bear by a seaman employed in one of
the Hull whalers, was attended with a ludicrous result.  "The ship was moored to
a piece of ice, on which, at a considerable distance, a large Bear was observed
prowling about for prey.  One of the ship's company, emboldened by an artificial
courage derived from the free use of rum, which in his economy he had stored for
special occasions, undertook to pursue and attack the Bear that was within view.
Armed only with a whale-lance, he resolutely, and against all persuasion, set
out on his adventurous exploit.  A fatiguing journey of about a half a league,
over a yielding surface of snow and rugged hummocks, brought him within a few
yards of the enemy, which, to his surprise, undauntedly faced him, and seemed to
invite him to the combat.  His courage being by this time greatly subdued,
partly by evaporation of the stimulus, and partly by the undismayed and even
threatening aspect of the Bear, he levelled his lance, in an attitude suited
either for offensive or defensive action, and stopped.  The Bear also stood
still; in vain the adventurer tried to rally courage to make the attack; his
enemy was too formidable, and his appearance too imposing.  In vain, also, he
abouted, advanced his lance, and made feints of attack; the enemy, either not
understanding, or despising such unmanliness, obstinately stood his ground.
Already the limbs of the sailor began to quiver; but the fear of ridicule from
his messmates had its influence, and he yet scarcely dared to retreat.  Bruin,
however, possessing less reflection, or being regardless of consequences, began,
with audacious boldness, to advance.  His nigh approach and unshaken step
subdued the spark of bravery, and that dread of ridicule that had hitherto
upheld our adventurer; he turned and fled.  But now was the time of danger; the
sailor's flight encouraged the Bear in turn to pursue, and being better
practised in snow travelling, and better provided for it, he rapidly gained upon
the fugitive.  The whale-lance, his only defence, encumbering him in his
retreat, he threw it down, and kept on.  This fortunately excited the Bear's
attention; he stopped, pawed, bit it, and then renewed the chase.  Again he was
at the heels of the panting seaman, who, conscious of the favourable effects of
the lance, dropped one of his mittens; the stratagem succeeded, and while Brain
again stopped to examine it, the fugitive improving the interval, made
considerable progress ahead.  Still the Bear resumed the pursuit with a most
provoking perseverance, except when arrested by another mitten, and finally, by
a hat, which he tore to shreds between his teeth and paws, and would, no doubt,
soon have made the incautious adventurer his victim, who was now rapidly losing
strength, but for the prompt and well-timed assistance of his shipmates--who,
observing that the affair had assumed a dangerous aspect, sallied out to his
rescue.  The little phalanx opened him a passage, and then closed to receive the
bold assailant.  Though now beyond the reach of his adversary, the dismayed
fugitive continued onwards, impelled by his fears, and never relaxed his
exertions, until he fairly reached the shelter of his ship.  The Bear once more
came to a stand, and for a moment seemed to survey his enemies with all the
consideration of an experienced general; when, finding them too numerous for a
hope of success, he very wisely wheeled about, and succeeded in making a safe
and honourable retreat."
     Several authors speak of the liver of the Polar Bear as being poisonous.
This is an anomaly for which no reason has yet been assigned; the fact seems,
however, well ascertained.  All the other parts of the animal are wholesome, and
it forms a considerable article of food to the Indians of the maritime Arctic
     The skin of the Polar Bear is a valuable covering to these tribes, and is
dressed by merely stretching it out on the snow, pinning it down, and leaving it
to freeze, after which the fat is all scraped off.  It is then generally hung up
in the open air, and "when the frost is intense, it dries most perfectly; with a
little more scraping it becomes entirely dry and supple, both skin and hair
being beautifully white."  "The time of the year at which the sexes seek each
other is not positively known, but it is most probably in the month of July, or
of August.  HEARNE, who is an excellent authority, relates that he has seen them
killed during this season, when the males exhibited an extreme degree of
attachment to their companions.  After a female was killed, the male placed his
fore-paws over her, and allowed himself to be shot rather than relinquish her
dead body."
     The pregnant females during winter seek shelter near the skirt of the
woods, where they excavate dens in the deepest snow-drifts, and remain there in
a state of torpid inaction, without food, from the latter part of December or
early in January till about the end of March; they then relinquish their dens to
seek food on the sea-shore, accompanied by their cubs."-GODMAN, Vol. I., pp.
     The affection of the female Polar Bear for her young is exemplified by
several stories in the Polar voyages.  SCORESBY says, "a she Bear with her two
cubs, were pursued on the ice by some of the men, and were so closely
approached, as to alarm the mother for the safety of her offspring.  Finding
that they could not advance with the desired speed, she used various artifices
to urge them forward, but without success.  Determined to save them, if
possible, she ran to one of the cubs, placed her nose under it, and threw it
forward as far as possible; then going to the other, she performed the same
action, and repeated it frequently, until she had thus conveyed them to a
considerable distance.  The young Bears seemed perfectly conscious of their
mother's intention, for as soon as they recovered their feet, after being thrown
forward, they immediately ran on in the proper direction, and when the mother
came up to renew the effort, the little rogues uniformly placed themselves
across her path, that they might receive the full advantage of the force exerted
for their safety."
     The sagacity of the Polar Bear is said to be great, and it is very
difficult to entrap this animal, as he scents the ground, and cautiously
approaches even when the snare is concealed by the snow.  SCORESBY relates an
instance of a Bear which, having got his fore-foot in a noose, very deliberately
loosened the slip-knot with the other paw, and leisurely walked off to enjoy the
bait which he had abstracted.
     Capt. J. C. Ross states in regard to this species:--"During our stay at
Fury Beach many of these animals came about us, and several were killed.  At
that time we were fortunately in no want of provisions, but some of our party,
tempted by the fine appearance of the meat, made a hearty meal off the first one
that was shot.  All that partook of it soon after complained of a violent
headache, which with some continued two or three days, and was followed by the
skin peeling off the face, hands, and arms; and in some who had probably
partaken more largely, off the whole body.  On a former occasion I witnessed a
somewhat similar occurrence, when, on Sir Edward Parry's Polar journey, having
lived for several days wholly on two Bears that were shot, the skin peeled off
the face, legs, and arms of many of the party.  It was then attributed rather to
the quantity than the quality of the meat, and to our having been for sometime
previous on very short allowance of provisions.  The Esquimaux eat its flesh
without experiencing any such inconvenience, but the liver is always given to
the dogs, and that may possibly be the noxious part.  The Esquimaux of Boothia
Felix killed several during their stay in our neighbourhood in 1830, all males."

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     The Polar Bear inhabits the north of both continents, having been found in
the highest latitudes ever reached by navigators.  It was seen by Capt. Parry in
latitude 82 degrees.  It exists on all the Asiatic coasts of the Frozen Ocean,
from the mouth of the Obi, eastward, and abounds in Nova Zembla and Spitzbergen.
In America it is found in Greenland, Labrador, and on the coasts of Baffin's and
Hudson's Bays.  They seem not to be found on the islands in Behring's Straits.
     McKENSIE informs us that these animals are unknown in the White Sea, or on
the coast of Siberia to the eastward of Tchutskoinoss.  They have been seen on
floating icebergs from fifty to a hundred miles at sea.  Capt. Ross states that
this species was found in greater numbers in the neighbourhood of Port Bowen and
Batty Bay in Prince Regent's Inlet, than in any other part of the Polar Regions
that were visited by the several expeditions of discovery.  This he supposed was
owing to the food they were enabled to procure in that vicinity, Lancaster Sound
being but seldom covered by permanently fixed ice, and therefore affording them
means of subsistence during the severity of an arctic winter, and also from its
being remote from the haunts of the Esquimaux.