I've been through a lot of fire, man overboard and abandon ship drills, but I've never seen a crew muster on deck as fast as we did this morning, when the polar bear alert came over the ship's address system.

It was a big bear, or at least it looked big to me - but then this is the first polar bear I've seen outside of a zoo. Apparently, that the males can weigh up to 900 pounds. Majestic, even from a distance in fairly thick fog, that much I can say for sure.

I do wonder what the bear made of us. It was walking parallel to our course on thick pack ice, going the other way in no apparent hurry. Maybe busy hunting the two seals we saw a few minutes later. Of course, if I'd been out there on foot or in a kayak he might have decided I was breakfast instead.

At the time, we were about 65 miles (105km) from shore, and if you don't know polar bears, you might think it strange to see one this far from land. In reality, this is where they live for much of the year. Out on the pack ice. It's even common for them to go much further out than this.

Polar bears depend on the ice. It's where they hunt seals. They are no match for seals at swimming, but polar bears use a number of clever strategies to catch them anyway. They sneak up on seals basking near the edge of ice floes, break into the their ice dens, and wait patiently at breathing holes to snatch them from the water.

Like many arctic species, the polar bear depends on sea ice for its survival- ice that global warming is melting. Unless we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and soon, the wild polar bear could well be extinct in my lifetime. So, I'm glad I've seen one at least, but if someday I have grandkids I hope they get a chance to do the same.

Fortunately, we do have options - as individuals and as nations. We can push our politicians to sign and properly implement the Kyoto Protocol, choose energy efficient products, and demand a switch to proven renewable energy technologies, like wind and solar. If you live in the US, your help is especially needed - act today.

- Andrew