Zac Unger wanted to make a difference. After a brief solo visit to learn about the polar bear situation, the firefighter in California’s Bay area took some vacation time. He packed up his wife and three young children for an extended visit to Churchill, Manitoba to learn the facts about the future of polar bears. Along the way, he learned about politics and propaganda tactics as he met the small town populace and the seasonal influx of ecotourists.
Unger recounts his adventures in the sometimes bawdy but always entertaining “Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye.” Readers can accompany him on his attempts to connect with the top names in polar bear research and his discoveries about the conflicting opinions on the future of polar bears. Are they an endangered species or not?
Over the course of his explorations, Unger discovered a research group that identifies individual polar bears by their DNA as collected from their feces. That’s right, polar bear poop! This same group discovered a myriad of dietary items other than seals in the collected samples. This flew in the face of many researchers who tied the future of the species to a diet of strictly seals hunted over ice. If the ice disappears, how will the bears survive?
Unger shares his findings as he introduces readers to the characters who make up the stable population of Churchill and the seasonal visitors whose expenditures allow the little town to survive. He lets us tune in to his questions and misgivings as he strives to understand the future of the beloved polar bear.
More than an adventure story and beyond a cautionary tale, “Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye” provides food for thought for anyone concerned about the future of our planet and its creatures. Unger delivers polar bears, not just cute and cuddly powder-puff cubs but the massive eating machines that they become as they grow. He examines how humans interact with and upon the local bears and what our impact may be.
You won’t find comfortable pat answers here. What you will find is an intriguing story of a man’s search for the facts told with a healthy dose of common sense. While the book contains a good bit of salty language, it is worth the effort to get beyond the cursing. Unger tells a compelling tale of tearing through the myths and sales pitches to get to a genuine picture of the plight of Hudson Bay polar bears and our planet.
“Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye: A Family Field Trip to the Arctic’s Edge in Search of Adventure, Truth, and Mini-Marshmallows” by Zac Unger
Published by DaCapo Press
This review is based on a review copy provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.