The Great White Bear: A Natural and Unnatural History of the Polar Bear
by Kieran Mulvaney
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
If Richard Ellis (author of On Thin Ice) is the polar bear's biographer, Kieran Mulvaney is its Eyewitness News reporter, making us feel as though we're watching the bear's life cycle closeup. Mulvaney threads the life story of a particular bear (initially a pair of siblings) through an adventure combining his own first-person experiences with interesting bits of polar bear lore through the centuries. Everything from Arctic exploration to the science of ice formation comes into play to fill out the picture.
I thought I was well-read on this animal, but Mulvaney shoots down some things I thought were true, such as the idea the bears hide their black noses with paws or an ice block when stalking a seal. He provides some striking incidents from recent bear studies: I had no idea a hungry bear would smash the roof of a den to commit cannibalism, or that there was an incident where a bear used an ice block as a tool to either bash open a seal's refuge or actually brain the seal (no one is sure which). Mulvaney thinks the bear is in major trouble from climate change: it's too much of a specialist to adapt to changing conditions the way a generalist species like the brown bear could.
If you want to know this unique predator better, pick up this book.