Face-to-Face With a Polar Bear in the Arctic

NG Explorer Paul Rose says the Arctic is his spiritual home (Photograph courtesy Jonathan Renouf).

By Kitson Jazynka for National Geographic Polar Bear Watch

NG Explorer Paul Rose says the Arctic is his spiritual home (Photograph courtesy Jonathan Renouf).

When you’re on an expedition in the Arctic, National Geographic Explorer Paul Rose says, you should always be prepared for polar bears. It’s a good idea to have cooking pots ready to bang together, or a flare gun to discourage a bear from coming near. But on a recent night in June, when a polar bear landed on his tent, Rose was sound asleep.

“It was just one of those things,” Rose said. “We hadn’t seen any polar bears, and I was just going to have a short sleep because we had so much to do.” Rose and a few others had arrived earlier than the rest of the team to set up camp on the northern tip of Canada’s Baffin Island on a 50-foot-wide beach for an expedition. Their mission? To study and document the future of the Arctic.

“It’s so beautiful and remote,” Rose said. “It’s one of the last truly wild places on Earth.”

Wild it is. At 2 a.m. that night, Rose awoke to the sound of his own sudden exhale and what he describes as an incredibly heavy weight on the left side of his head and shoulder. “It was so heavy on me, but also soft,” he said. “I instantly knew it couldn’t have been a caribou. That huge, heavy thing had to be a polar bear. It was stretching my head and shoulder apart, like a chiropractor.”

Rose slipped out of his sleeping bag and grabbed a flare gun. The bear moved off, but it was too dark to see where the giant predator had gone. “I didn’t want to blow a flare through my tent,” Rose said. “So I sat there listening, just —> Read More

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