Imágenes de páginas



to these powerful limbs proves that it needs no second blow to secure its victim, and the encounters of bears with seals no longer seem incredible as we gaze on these massive limbs, one net-work of muscular fibre. One man is laden with our rifles; the rest follow, dragging our hide after us—a laborious operation, and we are heartily weary of it by the time we reach our ship. This successful bear-hunt affords much material for comment. The season opens

earlier this

year than last, as no bear was killed in the former cruise at this date, and everybody is busy speculating on our chances. Every one on board settles down into a charming state of rest, and it is only by chance that one of the men goes on deck, and, looking over the side, sees another Brownie gnawing at the hawser! Had he crept aft and informed us of his discovery, we should then and there have added another bear-skin to our collection ; but, taken aback by the awkward propinquity of ursus arctus, he holloas out Bear, bear! In an instant every one seizes a gun and rushes on deck. Bang go the bullets in all directions, -one fellow jumps on the ice and starts in pursuit, getting in line of our fire, so that whatever chance we might have had is robbed by our too eager hunter. A long shot may do wonders, we think ; and so we hasten after the retreating bear. By good luck a

bullet is lodged in the near hind leg, which sadly impedes his flight, and we gain on him every step we take. Another long shot stops him altogether; not in the least deterred, we dash into the bitter cold water where he has fallen, in our anxiety to secure him. In a trice the bear is dragged out and divested of his outer covering. This fellow was as empty as his mate, and in this state his temper is sure to be at its worst point. The want of food may be a common thing amongst the family generally, but regardless of their savage nature, we go single-handed towards the fire smouldering in the remains of his companion, in the hopes of picking up a third bear. We are forced to return empty handed.

The well-known “ Polar “ Ice Bear" is not now nearly so plentiful as in former times, and is rarely seen at the present day between lat. 59° and 66° in Mid-Greenland. The Company of Royal Merchants in Greenland give the natives about five rigsdaler (11s. 3d.) for the skin. Occasionally there are a number killed near Cape Farewell, which come round on the annual ice-drift. There a curious custom prevails, viz., that whosoever sights the bear firstman, woman, or child—is entitled to the skin, and the person who has shot it only to the blubber and flesh, which is said to be, especially the liver, poi


[blocks in formation]

sonous when eaten. The Eskimos on the western shores of Davis's Straits carefully prohibit their dogs from devouring any portion of it. Its light creamy colour, rarely purely white, except when young, has gained for it, as we have said, the name of Brownie from the Scotch and Shetland whalers. Sometimes it is called the « Farmer," from its very agricultural appearance as it stalks leisurely over the furrowed fields of ice.

Its principal food consists of the flesh of seals, in whose pursuit it is indefatigable ; but it is omnivorous in its diet, and will often clear an islet of eider ducks eggs

in the course of a few hours. The rage of the animal on its failure to secure a seal by such artifices as we have mentioned is boundless. It roars hideously, tossing the snow in the air, and trotting off in a most indignant frame of mind. During the sealing season, says Dr. R. Brown, both in Greenland and Spitzbergen seas the bear is a constant attendant on the sealer for the sake of the carcases, in the pursuit of which it is sometimes more free than welcome." He had also often seen it feeding on whales of different species which are found floating dead. In 1861 he saw upwards of twenty all busily devouring the huge inflated carcase of a Balona mysticetus in Pond's Bay, on the western shore of Davis's Strait. The party

were foolish enough to fire a few shots among them, when the bears sprang furiously from the carcase and made for their boat. One succeeded in getting its paws on to the gunwale, and it was only by the vigorous application of an axe that they succeeded in relieving themselves of so unwelcome an addition to their crew. On the whole, the conclusion Brown comes to, is that the polar bear is not a very fierce animal when not enraged, and he thinks that a great deal of the impressions which we have imbibed regarding its ferocity are more due to old notions of what it ought to be rather than what it is, and that the tales related by Barentz, Edward Pelham, and other old navigators were a good deal exaggerated. When enraged or emboldened by hunger, it is easily understood that, in common with all wild and even domesticated animals, it may be dangerous to man. Though seemingly so unwieldy, the nennok runs with great speed, and being almost marine in its habits, it swims with perfect ease and dives with a natural grace almost as well as an ordinary seal.

It has been chased over the ice on many occasions, as every one is aware who has looked over the pages of the Arctic records, and the mother bear on many occasions has been observed to manifest the most tender solicitude for her offspring—helping them with

[blocks in formation]

a display of reasoning powers one would hardly expect to find. When her cub begins to fail in its powers of locomotion, the old one has been seen to stop and encourage it, sometimes pushing it along before her; and when hard pressed lifting the little ones out of the water on to the edge of the ice floe as a cat lifts her kittens. Richardson, Parry, and others mention the fact of the white bear being found a long distance from land swimming in the open sea. Then there are the stories and traditions of the whalers, such as that one of the bear in hard times sucking at its own paws, to extract sustenance from its own system to support itself; as well as others to the effect that it builds for itself houses in the ice, and of their gambols therein ; as well as encounters with the walrus, affording ample matter for whaling sailors' yarns whenever the subject crops up amongst them on sight of a “Farmer.”

As for the question of the winter hybernation of the bear, there are many conflicting opinions. Those kept in confinement do not help in this inquiry, for the conditions of its life are entirely altered; but it is supposed that the female retires for some period of the winter, and the old males only partially hybernate. The young

of the bear on making its first appearance in this world is the smallest infant we know of when

« AnteriorContinuar »