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9 August, 2003

We chanced upon a castaway today.

As we were on a station conducting a CTD cast of the rosette sampler, a sharp eye up on the Palmer's bridge alerted us below to a small floe of ice drifting toward the ship. This was unusual in that the Palmer had been running for several hours without seeing any ice to speak of at all. From what we could tell, there wasn't really any ice within 30 miles. But here was a 100 meter-long ice patch being blown our way by a fairly stiff wind. It was raining hard too.

I don't know who first spotted the castaway, but soon several of us were getting good looks from the bow of the furry fellow on this lonely raft of ice. No, it wasn't some forlorn sailor (or research scientist) that needed to be rescued, but the lone bear sure got everyone talking. What was this polar bear doing here so far from the pack ice? Did it swim here? Or did the bear fall asleep to discover that it had become marooned when it woke up? Was it merely resting? How long had the bear been on this chunk of ice anyway?

As the floe grew nearer and nearer, we could see that the bear looked small and even skinny. A young bear perhaps? Was it hungry? One thing for sure: this is the first bear of the entire cruise that didn't run or swim away from our big orange-hulled boat. For now, at least, this bear was content just where it was. It sat up and yawned. The bear looked at us. We - at least a dozen of us by now - looked at the bear.

Did I mention that it was raining? By now, I was completely soaked, camera and binoculars too. And the wind was cold. Ice was forming on the deck. Many wisely went inside, but a few of us remained out on the bow. In fact, it gave me the opportunity to admire how comfortable the bear seemed while I was not. The bear's adaptations to this inclement weather include a coat of thick fur with water repellent guard hairs and dense underfur. It also has a short snout covered with fur, small ears, and furry feet - all of which reduce heat loss. A nice situation for a castaway, its feet solidly planted on the ice.

All told, an hour passed by, so when the "cast" was complete, the Palmer slowly moved on, leaving everyone to wonder what was to become of this bear. Indeed, this castaway's journey may have only just begun.


Note the furry feet.

The castaway's raft.

The castaway.

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