On Thin Ice
The changing world of the polar bear.
Written by Science & TechnologyFiled under
The long-term outlook for polar bears is bleak, and anyone who reads Richard Ellis’ “On Thin Ice” (Knopf) is sure to come away with a deeper understanding of exactly why their existence is threatened. This isn’t to say that the book is a depressing recap of every disservice human beings have done to these majestic creatures. In fact, by vividly describing the hunting and mating habits of polar bears—not to mention the ever-growing list of environmental challenges they face—Ellis makes them that much more endearing. This is no small feat, as polar bears are already one of the most-appreciated animals on earth—the icon for global warming.
Earlier this week, Failure engaged Ellis in a brief conversation about polar bears, and the book “I’ve been preparing to write for probably my entire adult life.”
What is the greatest misconception about polar bears?
The greatest misconception is that they are carnivorous man-eaters. They’re not. They are powerful and dangerous if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but polar bears do not spend time knocking over boats, chasing sled dogs, and looking for people to eat.
Rather, because polar bears are apex predators, they’re not afraid of anything. When people [whalers] first encountered polar bears, they couldn’t think of anything else to do, so they shot them. They shot them just standing there on the ice—not attacking anyone. Then the whalers made up stories about how polar bears chased them and threatened to climb aboard their ships. The bears were probably no more dangerous than curious.