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Original Issue

A Search for Some Bear Facts

When alarmists charged that the polar bear was being hunted to extinction, the outcry sent scientists like Lee Miller and Jack Lentfer (below) off across the ice on a rewarding research trail

Ever since man first probed the frozen vastness at the top of the world, he has both feared and been fascinated by the big white bear that lives there. Few animal habitats are more forbidding and few parts of the globe more hostile to life in any form. The winds wail year round across the wastes of the Arctic ice cap, and winter has no end. But the polar bear, acknowledging no enemy and accepting no equal, is master of its milieu. Or so it has always seemed. Of late, however, in this country and abroad, fear and fascination have been replaced by concern that all is not well with the polar bear.

Are the Days of the Arctic's King Running Out? headlined The New York Times in its magazine section on March 28, 1965. Yes, said the six columns that followed. Yes, said Lowell Thomas Jr., son of the explorer and unsuccessful congressional candidate from Alaska. Yes, said Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior (although he did not place the bear on Interior's list of endangered and extinct species). Yes, said that rare public speaker Charles Lindbergh in a speech in Juneau, Alaska: "The polar bear is in danger."

Not since the nation embraced Smokey as guardian of its forests has public sentiment rallied so solidly behind a bear. "The polar bear," wrote The New York Times, this time on its editorial page, "is a victim of a peculiar—and peculiarly repulsive—expression of man's egotism. Wealthy men have taken to hunting bears in Alaska from airplanes.... This kind of hunt is about as sporting as machine-gunning a cow." Man the Despoiler was at it again, and compounding his crime with the twin sins of money and mechanization.

Statesmen and politicians lost little time taking the same stand. Other newspapers and magazines took up the cry. Even the Congressional Record included in its pages several long and passionate pleas on behalf of the bear. Societies for the preservation of polar bears sprang up all over the country. And in September 1965 an international conference was called in Fairbanks, Alaska to consider the animal's fate.

To this meeting came biologists and ecologists from the five interpolar nations—Norway, Denmark (Greenland), Canada, the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. With them they brought reports, records, statistics and suggestions. And as the meeting progressed through a week of speeches and seminars, one fact began to emerge with increasing clarity: in spite of mounting concern throughout the world for the polar bear's survival, in spite of countless printed and spoken words forecasting its doom, not one person in that learned gathering could offer factual evidence that the polar bear was actually in danger. As discussions wore on it became clear that much of the publicity surrounding the polar bear's "plight" was founded on emotion rather than fact.

In emphasizing the need for more information about polar bears the conference at Fairbanks triggered a barrage of research that may eventually prove of major significance not only to the animal's survival but also to man's. Polar bear studies undertaken after the conference to answer questions involving game management and conservation have expanded in the three years since into so many other areas of inquiry that the bear is currently involved in virtually every phase of science.

In medicine, for example, the polar bear's corneas and the nictitating membranes of its eyes, which act as built-in sunglasses, may provide a clue to preventing snow blindness. The unexpectedly dark pigmentation of the bear's skin, the whiteness of its hair, its remarkable digestive system, which can convert large quantities of seal blubber into body heat, and its relatively short limbs all are being examined for secrets of the polar bear's ability to withstand incredible cold.

Another important experiment a polar bear tagging program—was begun as a result of the conference. Working out of Barrow in the spring of 1966, Scientists Vagn Flyger and Martin Schein, after dozens of unsuccessful attempts and considerable risk to their lives, managed to fire drug-filled immobilizing darts into seven polar bears. Although four of the bears died (the roar of public outrage that followed almost drowned out the fact that much valuable information about tagging had been obtained), the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, making use of a helicopter and more compatible drugs, undertook a tagging program of its own the following year.

Dr. Harry Messel, an Australian physicist and joint director of the Cornell-Sydney Astronomy Centre, found himself fascinated by the results of these early tagging efforts. "I thought," Messel recalls, "why not carry this tagging program one step farther and put radio collars on the bears? Tracking the movement of animals by means of electronically transmitted signals was not a new idea, but developing a radio-transmitting system that would work on a polar bear in the specialized severity of its Arctic environment was something else again.

"I realized," Messel explains, "that such a system, if valid for the polar bear, would be valid for other marine animals, and then, more important, for utilization in the study of the various parameters of the ocean. From there the applications to the whole field of oceanography are unlimited.

"Eventually we hope to be able to interrogate a whole system of ocean stations through satellites, to keep track of entire fleets of Polaris submarines, to monitor underwater weather stations around the world simply by pressing a button. But this is all in the future. Before this can be done we must first develop a basic transmitting system that works on polar bears."

In little more than a year those involved in the tagging program have come remarkably close to achieving this first step. Prototypes of radio collars are being worn by 77 polar bears wandering the Arctic ice pack off Alaska. Radio-transmitting equipment is being designed and built by Lockheed Electronics in Houston. It is not inconceivable that a year from now someone on a scientific team will fly out of Barrow and, by means of this electronic-interrogating equipment, send a signal that will turn on the transmitter in the collar of any bear that happens to be within a 120-mile range of the plane. The bear's collar will then send back an electronic beep indicating its location within roughly two degrees. Since each collar will have its own radio code, each bear will be immediately identifiable as to age, sex, where and when it was tagged and where it was last sighted.

To conserve battery life between interrogations, the transponder in the collar will function only when actually interrogated. The collar will automatically turn itself off after 20 seconds to prevent its inadvertently being left on should a bear, for example, move out of range of the interrogation equipment before a shut-off signal can be sent by remote control. If the interrogator needs more information, he will simply keep pressing the button every 20 seconds. Power in the radio prototypes now being tested is sufficient to turn a single battery on and off 3,000 times. This, hopefully, should be more than adequate power to "turn on" a specific bear over a period of from two to five years.

"This is what we should be able to do in theory," explains Jack Lentfer, chief of bear research for the Alaska game department. "What happens in practice is much more complex. We still consider this pretty much a pilot study. For every problem we have already solved, there are probably 25 we don't see. Eventually we hope to tag 100 bears with transponders. The first six will cost $5,000 each. That's a lot of money in collars. Before we get into anything that big, we want the maximum information we can get from prototypes."

The radio system, while certainly much farther along than anyone dared hope, is still several years away. But the regular tagging program is already producing information of practical application. This year, in a six-week period in March and April, Lentfer and several crews managed to tag 142 bears.

Lentfer has found the best aerial combination for tagging is a helicopter flying in conjunction with a light aircraft such as a Cessna 180. He and his partner, who was Lee Miller of the Alaska game department on the several expeditions I accompanied in March, fly in the helicopter. The airplane carries spare equipment, extra gas and, as in my case, an occasional passenger when there is room among the five-gallon gas tins that fill most of the cockpit.

From the air the frozen world below stretches to infinity, a silvery snowscape of strange shapes and silhouettes. Pressure ridges jut skyward like clumsily constructed walls, reflecting from their recesses a dozen tints of blue and green. Massive chunks of ice eight and 10 feet thick and many times that size across are strewn about. All sense of perspective is lost in such vastness. There is no predetermined profile against which to gauge the pinnacles and spires of the Arctic skyline, no familiar formula to predict if the rise of a frosty undulation will flip a landing plane nose first into the snow or accept the gliding skis. Landing and taking off on the sea ice is a form of gambling in the purest sense of the word. Experienced Arctic pilots, it is true, have learned to read the subtle hues and shadings, shadows and gradations that offer clues to the thickness of the ice and its suitability for landing. But even the best pilots rely heavily upon instinct and upon the ability to make instant, intuitive judgments.

Other factors also affect the odds—all for the worse. There are few places in the world where flying conditions can change so drastically or with so little advance warning. A 10,000-foot ceiling can abruptly drop to zero, 10-mile visibility to inches. In minutes gale winds can blow where there had been no breeze, filling the air with snow and opening great rents in the ice. These leads, as the openings are called, may be a few feet across or a mile or more.

In March and April, when the subzero temperatures of the Arctic air meet the warmer temperatures of the water, steam rises from the open leads on the ice pack, forming dark clouds that can be seen upon the horizon for many miles. This is what Jack Lentfer's crew, flying offshore on a tagging mission, look for first. In the vicinity of these gaps, where the ice is unstable and landings and take-offs are most treacherous, bears come to the open water to hunt seals—the basic item of their diet.

Most of the bears Lentfer tagged this year were found near leads relatively close to shore. All six of the bears he tagged when I was along were immobilized within 20 miles of land and within 15 miles of each other.

We spotted the first bear tracks less than an hour after takeoff from the Arctic Research Laboratory at Barrow, where the tagging operation was based, and less than 10 minutes after locating a lead. The plane flew at altitudes between 100 and 200 feet, dipping first one wing and then the other to provide the fullest view of the surface below. Suddenly the pilot flipped the plane past the vertical and yelled, "Tracks." Bisecting a patch of snow in a straight line were what looked from our height like the neatly spaced footprints of a pygmy rabbit. The foot of an average polar bear is 16" long and 10" across. For the first time, I was aware of the real size of those mounds and ridges below, and of the animal that moved so casually among them.

The pilot signaled the helicopter, and in minutes it was following along the bear's trail, hovering close to the ice to keep the tracks in sight. Then, ahead of it, we saw the bear. It stood in the jagged outcropping of a pressure ridge, watching with casual interest the strange flying creature drawing toward it. Even against such a background the bear was easily visible. Its hair was the rich, creamy color of butterfat, almost yellow alongside the less nourishing skimmed-milk whiteness of the snow.

When the helicopter was directly over the bear Lentfer unzippered a canvas window in the side of the helicopter's bubble and, aiming the muzzle of a specially adapted shotgun at the bear's hindquarters, fired a dart filled with the drug Sernylan deep into its flank. Startled, the bear leaped from the pressure ridge and galloped away over the rough ice. The big animal loped across a snowy field with the loose-limbed, liquid gait of a cheetah, and at one point scaled what was virtually a vertical wall of ice. After about 20 minutes the bear showed signs of slowing down. Then it stopped and sat back on its haunches, tentatively, like an old man testing a chair. The bear turned in a circle and lowered its body on its elbows. The helicopter touched down about 20 yards from the bear, and the Cessna landed nearby in a clearing about the size of a short driveway.

I extricated myself from the gas tins and climbed out of the plane. The surface that looked so traversable from the air was, on foot, a maze of traps and pitfalls innocently covered with snow and liable at any step to snag an ankle, snap a bone or dissolve into a hip-deep crevasse. When I reached the men they were standing near the bear, which was still propped on its elbows, its black eyes open and unexpectedly alert, its head bobbing slightly as if too heavy to support.

"There, there," Miller said, patting it gently between the ears.

"Sow," Lentfer explained to me. "About four years old from her size."

Moving with swift efficiency, the men removed the dart from the bear's rump and injected the animal with a tranquilizer to counteract any possible side effects. Sernylan affects the bear's central nervous system, temporarily impeding its muscular control to the extent that it cannot get up or move about, but it is not rendered unconscious.

The men then measured the bear; removed its lower right rear mandible (a nonessential tooth); tattooed its upper left inside lip with what from now on will be the bear's own Zip Code; placed a green metal tag in its left ear and a blue metal tag in its right; injected it with a chemical that will form a stain at the site of developing calcium deposits (for future use, like the tooth, in an aging study); fastened one of Messel's dummy collars around its neck; examined its reproductive organs to determine whether it had reached sexual maturity (it had) and whether it had been bred (it had not); painted upon its rump in large, indelible, purple-ink numerals its identification number (this was bear No. 101); then rolled the animal in a huge nylon net that was attached to a scale in the helicopter and, by suspending bear and net in the air, weighed the still calmly blinking creature.

The entire process—from the first measurement to the weighing—took a total of 10 minutes. The bear would need another two hours to recover fully and doubtless the better part of its lifetime to wonder what kind of trip it had taken.

What kind of trip it is likely to take—in the literal sense of how far it is likely to range through the Arctic—is the No. 1 question scientists and sportsmen hope the tagging program will answer.

"The evidence so far," says Jack Lentfer, "seems to suggest that there are several races of polar bears. We don't know how discrete they are, or how many races there may be, but recent research points in that direction rather than to there being one big circumpolar population."

Studies of blood serum from 70 bears taken off Alaska and 70 bears taken off Norway last year revealed differences between the two blood groups that suggest separate races of bears in these two areas. The study is being repeated on a larger scale this year using blood serum from bears taken off Canada as well.

A Canadian study suggests the possibility of a separate race of bears in the Chukchi Sea. In this project a comparison of relative skull sizes of polar bears around the Arctic indicates a pattern of progressively increasing measurements from Spitsbergen to Greenland to Canada to Point Barrow with a decided jump in skull dimensions of bears taken from the Chukchi Sea. This year Russia has joined Canada in an even more comprehensive skull study.

If these and other studies currently under way in the Arctic prove, as they now suggest, that there are indeed several different races of more or less nationally oriented polar bears on the top of the world, then responsibility for their respective management rests clearly with the individual countries involved. And if, as Jack Lentfer believes and Alaska game department studies indicate, polar bear populations in Alaska are neither in danger nor threatened at the present time, but are both large enough and healthy enough to justify controlled harvest of their surpluses, there is nothing to be gained, and possibly much to be lost, by prohibiting such harvest. The concept of conservation as it is understood and practiced at its most fruitful level in the U.S. implies wise use. Encouraging a surplus in any species is not wise use but waste. The real issue concerning the polar bear is not whether it should be hunted, but to what extent, by whom and in what manner.

The first consideration is a practical one. The level of harvest of a species is determined—and controlled-by game-management policy that reflects all available data and research. The Alaska Arctic game-department studies indicate that a maximum of between 350 to 400 polar bears can be shot each year without endangering the species. Alaska's game laws are so written to limit polar bear shooting to this level or less. Bears taken during the past 10 years have, in fact, averaged less than 250.

The questions of who should hunt these bears and by what methods are more complex. They have been further obscured by blanket public indictments of polar bear hunting, polar bear hunters and polar bear guides. The strongest condemnation, and certainly the greatest confusion, concerns the use of airplanes in hunting polar bears.

Airplane hunting is an Alaskan phenomenon that developed after World War II. Until that time virtually all polar bears killed in Alaska were taken by Eskimos who either hunted them with dog teams or happened upon them while out after other game. The postwar influx into the Alaska Arctic of dependable light aircraft changed that. In the last decade non-Eskimo hunters using airplanes have taken an average of just over 200 bears each year—or about 85% of Alaska's annual harvest. While this makes airplane hunting of major significance in Alaska, it does not necessarily follow that it is similarly significant elsewhere.

In Canada, which limits polar bear hunting to natives, Eskimos and Indians take some 600 polar bears each year. Greenland residents take about 100 bears annually. In Norway, with an annual harvest of approximately 450 bears, 50% are taken by commercial sealers who consider the bear predatory, 40% are taken by trappers, and 10%, are hunted for sport. Polar bears are protected in Russia, but about 25 are collected each year for zoos and museums, and another 25 or so hides are spirited out of the country by poachers. The annual worldwide harvest is about 1,500 bears.

When the 200 polar bears taken annually by airplane hunters are seen against this total figure, it becomes obvious that airplane hunting can be of only negligible influence on worldwide populations. And since the annual airplane harvest falls well within limits established by the Alaska game department, its influence on Alaska-orientated populations is clearly acceptable from game-management standards.

Airplane hunting may well be, in fact, the most ecologically sound of all methods now employed. The airplane hunter is the only person taking bears today on a selective basis. He is after a trophy and he consistently passes up smaller, younger bears, which are the most productive portion of any breeding stock, in favor of large, old bears, which generally are the least productive. The Eskimo, on the other hand, is likely to shoot the first bear he sees regardless of whether it is a sow, cub or immature male. Alaska records indicate that 70% of the bears taken by airplane hunters are mature males as compared with 50% females and young taken by Eskimos.

If the airplane hunter is neither endangering nor decimating polar bear populations but, rather, is operating within the framework of practical game-management principles, why then is he so violently condemned?

The answer is not hard to find. The actions of a few pseudo-sportsmen who actually have shot bears from the air have been taken as representative of all polar hunting. The fact that a polar bear hunt is fiercely expensive, and can be indulged in only by the well-to-do, has compounded the suspicion that the sport is a sort of bloody toy for the rich and decadent. There is something deliciously immoral about anyone who spends $5,000, the cost of an average hunt with transportation, to bring home a single rug.

Some people, of course, are simply opposed to all hunting by any method, but a surprising number, particularly among those acquainted with current polar bear research, have no objection to shooting surplus bears provided airplanes are not used. Few, it must be noted—including a majority of the most public critics—have ever actually hunted polar bear or, for that matter, know what really takes place on an airplane hunt. In order to find out—and to explore the alternatives to the airplane—I spent a good part of March and April hunting polar bear in Alaska.

From the beginning my interest in hunting Eskimo-style met with enthusiasm everywhere. Scientists and sportsmen alike encouraged the idea. The Alaska game department suggested the names of several possible Eskimo guides, and Jack Lentfer recommended that I hunt the area off Wainwright, about 170 miles down the coast from Barrow, where Eskimos had already taken 30 bears this year. In theory, setting up a hunt seemed simple. In reality, it proved almost as difficult as the hunt itself.

There may be Eskimos in Alaska with both, the experience and equipment to guide professionally, but unfortunately I could not find them. Nor was I able to find any outfitters in the business of guiding overland hunts. Aside from being illegal, it would be lunacy for a nonresident to attempt to hunt polar bear without a guide. Obviously the alternative to airplane hunting in Alaska at the present time, at least in terms of hunting by other established, available means, is not to hunt at all.

Fortunately, I was offered one other alternative, thanks to the unexpected assistance of the Arctic Research Laboratory at Barrow. ARL is the center and single most important source of all research in the Arctic. The British Trans-Arctic Expedition left from there in March; T-3, a scientific station based on Fletcher's Ice Island, a five-mile-long iceberg floating some 700 miles out in the polar cap, is manned and supplied from there; since its establishment in 1947, more than 30 U.S. and foreign agencies, more than 60 colleges, universities and research institutions and some 1,000 individuals have used its facilities in studying the Arctic environment. Yet ARL conducts no actual research itself. Its sole purpose is to assist approved scientific inquiries in the Arctic.

Such assistance assumes many forms—from providing parkas and bunny boots to itinerant scientists to playing substitute mother to two polar bear cubs, which has been the between-flights' task of ARL Pilot Dick Dickerson for the past two years. The polar bear tagging and research programs have used ARL facilities. Flyger and Schein did their initial work from there. Messel, Lentfer and various members of the Alaska game department all based there this spring.

ARL's multifaceted operations are directed by Dr. Max Brewer, a lanky, laconic, redhaired geologist-geophysicist. Brewer originally took the director's job for one year. That was in 1956. In the dozen years since, he married the U.S. Public Health nurse stationed in the village of Barrow, four miles away, produced five children and guided ARL through its period of greatest growth. Although ARL is supported by funds from the U.S. Office of Naval Research and administered by the University of Alaska, Brewer's Quonset community at the top of the world is basically autonomous, and Brewer is boss.

Dr. Brewer had okayed unofficial accommodations for me at ARL to facilitate my going along on the bear-tagging expeditions. In subsequent conversations he became as fascinated as I about hunting polar bears overland. When he learned of my failure to locate an outfitter he generously agreed to equip and supply an overland expedition on the merits of the information it might produce about the potential of this kind of hunting.

With the major problem of outfitting solved, the lesser one of finding guides in Wainwright was entrusted to Bobby Fischer, who flew there on a twice-weekly mail run, the village's only contact with the outside. Bobby agreed to line up two local guides with sleds and good dog teams on his Saturday flight and to fly me in on the next one.

Wainwright is little more than a few dozen huts huddled together on the edge of the Arctic shore. Its streets in winter and spring are paths through shoulder-high drifts of snow, and until recently, when the first snowmobiles appeared, there was not a single mechanized vehicle in the village.

We set up camp about 40 miles north of Wainwright, at the edge of the sea ice. There were four of us: Homer and Barry Bodfish, Benny Ahmaogak and me. We all crowded into a tent about 14' x 8' with headroom at the center barely high enough for us to stand. With the heat from two Coleman cookstoves added to that many bodies, we almost suffocated. But at night, with an airhole opened for ventilation and the stoves off, the temperature inside was not much higher than outside.

In the next few days we hunted to the north, driving the dogs along the edge of the pack ice, jockeying the big, heavy sleds up over mountainous pressure ridges, around slabs of ice the size of small houses, past frozen leads and ones that were open. Periodically we climbed, hand over hand like Alpinists, to the tops of frozen towers, scanning the snowy seascape beyond. But in all our wanderings we saw no sign of bear. On the fourth morning it seemed clear that we were not headed for a rewarding hunt. We packed up camp and headed back to Wainwright.

There, with the help of Judy and Larry Fisher, two young teachers who run the 86-student BIA school, we located two other guides: Andrew Ekak, who had taken seven polar bears since fall, and Billy Nashoalook, who had taken three. Both men relied upon hunting for their living and were eager and energetic. Using snowmobiles instead of dogs to pull our sleds, we hunted south, covering twice the distances in the next few days that we had been able to cover with dogs.

But we saw no bears. The abundance of seals in the area, the condition of the ice and the determination of the guides were all in our favor. Time was not. In the limited range we could cover by sled in three or four days, to encounter a bear would have been pure luck. With three or four weeks to hunt, taking a bear this way might have been possible. Good guides like Andrew and Billy could be trained and equipped. Semipermanent camps in prescouted hunting areas favorable to bears could be set up in advance. Clients could then be deposited by plane without the delays of transporting supplies and setting up camp. At Arctic prices, the cost of a month's overland hunt would run higher than an airplane hunt and the physical demands of such a hunt would be a further limitation.

The bear I shot, finally, was located by airplane, and there was nothing easy about the hunt. It was the eighth day of waiting out weather reports and watching socked-in skies, and the third day we were actually able to fly. We had seen a number of bears by then and hundreds of tracks, but we had not seen a trophy.

My guide, Bill Ellis of Nabesna, Alaska, and I were in one plane. Ralph Marshall, also a registered Arctic guide, flew cover in another. We followed the tracks of this bear for miles, losing them on hard-packed snow, picking them up again, watching them disappear at the edge of a lead, circling endlessly until finally we found them again. When, suddenly, we finally spotted the bear, it was as its tracks had promised—a trophy.

The bear paid no attention to the plane but continued on its steady course, moving up and down over yard-high hummocks of ice as if they were not there. We marked the direction in which the bear was traveling, then flew beyond it about two miles and landed on a frozen lead. The propellers were still spinning as we jumped from the plane. Bill started off at a jog. I puffed along behind. We came to a pressure ridge and he scrambled up and over it with almost the agility of a polar bear. We covered a good half mile before he slowed.

"If he's still on course," Bill said, "he should come right through here."

We climbed onto a ridge and crouched behind an outcropping for cover. I supported my rifle on a block of snow and looked through the scope across to the next pressure ridge some 500 yards away. I was in perfect position.

"There he is," Bill whispered. "Don't move. He just came through that break in the ridge. He's headed this way." He was coming directly toward us. Then he stopped abruptly and turning at right angles to his course, he trotted away.

"Come on," Bill said, leaping down off the crag and running back toward the plane. "We'll try to head him off again."

We stalked the bear three more times, landing each time in shorter, narrower, rougher openings, racing over the ice and snow like people possessed. Twice we saw the bear again and were scented by it before we could get in range. It was traveling at a steady trot now, its movements remarkably similar in grace to a big, heavily muscled cat.

We knew on the fourth landing, this one the most treacherous of all, that this stalk would be our last. The bear was headed directly toward an open lead. If it reached thin ice before we intersected its course, it would be gone. We ran for the nearest ridge, unmindful of the footing and the chasms and crevasses that our steps were opening. Suddenly Bill threw himself flat and I fell almost on top of him.

"There! There!" he said. "Bear just crossed that ridge." Bill was on his feet again, climbing a crag. I had not seen the bear.

"He's in that rough stuff," Bill said, pointing straight ahead. Still I could see nothing but ice. "There he is! There he is! Just behind that big mound." I saw something move, a patch of cream against the snow and ice.

"Shoot," Bill said. "It's turning again. You won't get another chance."

It was the worst kind of shot—offhand, too far, a moving target, poor visibility. I put the scope on the patch of white and fired. The bear dropped behind the ice, out of sight. I had hit it but I could not be sure where. In a blur of white the bear scaled a ridge, galloping toward the water beyond. I fired twice, missing both times, then slid down the crag and scrambled to the next rise. There was one shell left in my chamber. I steadied the rifle against the ridge and fired. The bear slid to a stop less than 200 yards from the young ice.

Exactly two and a half hours had passed from the time we first saw the bear until it was finally down. More than two hours of that time had been spent stalking it on foot. In reaching its range and spotting the bear, the airplane had played no more important role than jeeps and motors and horses often play in reaching and finding other game.

The airplane is the vehicle of the Arctic, just as the Land Rover is the vehicle of Africa. It can be used under completely sporting conditions or it can be abused, just as the Land Rover can be. How it is used depends upon the guides themselves and upon the hunters they take out. Some have certainly abused their responsibility.

Airplane hunters do not machine-gun bears from planes, as some critics claim, but bears have been chased to exhaustion by airplanes; they have been herded to hunters by planes; their meat has been wasted by being left on the ice; pilots flying out of Point Hope and Kotzebue, only 50 miles across the Bering Strait to Russia, have violated Soviet air space. But these are exceptional cases.

For every guide who has flaunted the law there are a dozen who not only have followed it meticulously but have pushed for even stricter regulation. The guides have provided the chief field support of the game department in its bear survey—carefully transporting blood samples inside their parkas from every bear they take, collecting reproductive organs, checking stomach contents, convincing clients that they should donate a skull or at least a tooth to the study.

The majority of Arctic guides are as solidly on the side of the polar bear as the scientists now studying it. Certainly with guides, sportsmen and scientists all working together, the future of the polar bear is assured.