The Polar Bear Scientists

The Polar Bear Scientists

by Peter Lourie

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In the world there are probably fewer than 30 people who spend all or most of their effort working with polar bears. A veteran polar bear biologist, and the man in charge of Alaskan polar bear research for the past thirty years, Dr. Steven Amstrup has worked full time on polar bears since he joined the Polar Bear Project in 1980.  The Polar Bear Project


In the world there are probably fewer than 30 people who spend all or most of their effort working with polar bears. A veteran polar bear biologist, and the man in charge of Alaskan polar bear research for the past thirty years, Dr. Steven Amstrup has worked full time on polar bears since he joined the Polar Bear Project in 1980.  The Polar Bear Project conducts ongoing research on polar bear populations and habitats in the Southern Beaufort Sea in Barrow, Alaska.  Now under the leadership of George Durner, the Project has collected four decades of detailed, valuable data about how polar bears are responding to sea ice changes in the Arctic. This information has helped raised awareness about polar bears and their plight, and the same data may one day help scientists make new decisions for polar bear survival.

Amstrup and Durner now spend most of their time 725 miles south of Barrow, Alaska at the University of Alaska, Anchorage campus, conducting research and drawing conclusions based on the discoveries that their team makes.  Those scientists include polar bear biologists Kristin Simac and Mike Lockhart, based at times out of the abandoned Navy Arctic Research Laboratory in Barrow.  Every spring scientists like Kristin and Mike go out for six to eight weeks to capture bears on the Southern Beaufort Sea. By capture one means "tranquilize, take samples and measurements, tag, and release" —The Polar Bear Scientists begins on the first day of capture season and follows Kristin, Mike, and their helicopter mechanic as they fly through the skies over Barrow, looking for polar bears, and finding more water and less ice than they've seen in the past.

The process of capturing polar bears is an exciting and challenging one.  The polar bears have to be properly tranquilized in a safe area—so just because the team spots a polar bear, doesn't mean they automatically try to capture it. Tranquilizing a bear too close to water or thin ice might mean the polar bear could stumble in and drown.  It's also a challenge to tranq a mom bear and her babies, but when the opportunity presents itself, the team does its best to get the job done.  Once they are on the ground with a captured bear, the research begins.  All sorts of information and measurements are taken, blood is drawn, tags are affixed.  What does it all mean?  Are the polar bears getting smaller and moving further to find food every year?  Is there more water and less ice than there was before?  What can be done?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The full-color photographs are nothing short of stunning."—School Library Journal

"An informative, vicarious trip to the Arctic for polar bear enthusiasts and future scientists."—Booklist

Children's Literature - Elizabeth Young
Not about polar bears as scientists, but scientists studying and researching polar bears! Here, Lourie offers an in-depth look at what it takes to be part of a government research team in Alaska, gathering data and tracking polar bears. We are introduced to Dr. Steven Amstrup and his team, which even includes a helicopter pilot and mechanic, and learn about their tasks as they relate to the research and the roles they play in the capture of polar bears. The photographs are absolutely stunning. Since so few of us will ever experience these wonderful animals on a close and personal level, it is a real treat to see this intimate view of nature, as well as to see the respect shown to these magnificent bears by the scientists and crew. The message presented about polar bear research gets a bit tedious in places, and at times seems redundant. "Didn't I already read that before?" comes to mind every so often. The flow of the chapters is a bit confusing due to the placement of some photographs and change of text and background color. One needs to be fully engaged in order to not be distracted in this well-researched book in the "Scientists in the Field" series—a lot of information is packed into 80 pages! This book would fits well in the wildlife research, climate, biology, and career areas of a library. While not targeted to a primary grade audience, the attractive photographs may appeal to younger audiences, especially to those who enjoy bears of any kind bears. Following the text is a comprehensive glossary, a "Polar Bear Field Guide" that includes many facts not presented earlier in the book, a list of titles and websites for further study, and a thorough bibliography and index. This is sure to "capture" the interest of many and "release" the imagination for further investigations into this marvelous animal and rugged land. Reviewer: Elizabeth Young
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Since the 1960s, wildlife scientists have been studying Alaskan polar bears in their native habitat. Tracking aggressive wild animals via helicopter is a far cry from the stereotype vision of scientists working in a temperature-controlled laboratory. The narrative is a detailed description of such daily duties as chasing down the animals, tattooing them for future identification, weighing them, and drawing blood, all conducted in temperatures that can fall to minus 30°F. Nighttime chores include cleaning the instruments and repacking them for the next day. The full-color photographs are nothing short of stunning. They provide images of the animals staring up at the looming helicopter, mother bears with cubs, and scientists carefully and almost tenderly working on the sedated bears. Included throughout are facts about polar bears as well as the impact of global climate change on their chances for survival.—Frances E. Millhouser, formerly at Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Kirkus Reviews
For six weeks each summer, scientists in helicopters chase, dart, capture and tag polar bears on the southern Beaufort Sea near Barrow, Alaska, as part of a long-term study of their behavior. With photographs and real-time description of two such captures, Lourie (Arctic Thaw, 2007) details the searching, tracking, tranquilizing and hands-on measuring and marking that are part of this exciting field work. Some photographs serve as page backgrounds; others are insets with extensive captions. The busy design interferes with the immediacy of the author's account, interrupting it with sidebars and pictures of other trips. Before meeting the two scientists and pilot whose adventures lie at the center of this tangle, readers are introduced to other players: the mechanic who follows the field work in real time on his computer in Barrow and the former and current heads of the project. Between the chapters are four conversations with Dr. Steven Amstrup, former lead scientist, including two about global climate change. The book concludes with a page of polar-bear facts. Readers may give up trying to follow the narrative argument and concentrate on Lourie's stunning pictures of this remarkable creature and its beautiful, icy world. With more emphasis on the science work than the scientists, this entry in the usually excellent Scientists in the Field series disappoints. (glossary, suggested books and websites, sources, index). (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Scientists in the Field Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
11.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.60(d)
NC1260L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Peter Lourie is an author and photographer. He has published more than twenty books for young readers. He lives with his family in Vermont.

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