Polar bear pelt, narwhal games illustrate climate change for children at Bellingham museum

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 9, 2014 

Polar bears and narwhals - some of the Arctic's most unusual and beloved creatures - are the focus of a family activity day at the Whatcom Museum, part of its continuing events in support of the "Vanishing Ice" exhibit.

"Narwhals and Shellfish and Polar Bears - Oh My!" features games, art and storytelling aimed at bringing the exhibit to life for children and families. It's from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, in the Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher galleries, 250 Flora St. Admission is $3; free for museum members.

"Vanishing Ice" is an art exhibit that examines global climate change and its effect on alpine glaciers and the Earth's polar regions. Sunset magazine picked "Vanishing Ice" among its Best of the West things to do this month.

"There haven't been many (museum) exhibits that relate to climate change," said Chris Brewer, a Whatcom Museum educator and public programs coordinator. "It's starting to be a hot topic."

Saturday's activities include a Mysteries of the Narwhal game designed by marine mammal biologist Dr. Kristin Laidre for the Pacific Science Center's Polar Science Weekend.

"It's a life-size game board," Brewer said.

Visitors will be able to don a narwhal tusk - a tooth-like projection from the whale's jaw - and Laidre will present information about the distinctive marine mammals.

In addition, there will be animal art projects and a claymation video on ocean acidification, "The Other CO2 Problem," made by elementary students in England.

But perhaps the most impressive display will be a massive polar bear pelt that was given in the mid-1950s to the father of a Bellingham woman who will discuss the creatures whose habitat is threatened as the polar ice caps retreat.

Tim Shepherd said her father - who had a charter air service in Alaska - shot a female polar bear with a hunting party of Eskimo/Inuit people he was working with. They kept the meat, and he was given the pelt - head and all.

It's quite a conversation piece when she takes it for school presentations," Shepherd said.

"Their first response is that 'I thought the polar bear was white,' but it's really a cream color," Shepherd said. "Then they want to know if it's real. Then they want to know if they can touch it."

It is - and they can, she said.

Shepherd said the bear pelt will be on display from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and she will have short informational presentations at 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.

For adults and older children, Laidre will discuss "Communicating Climate Science Through Art" in a free lecture from 2-3:30 p.m. Saturday at the museum's Old City Hall galleries, 121 Prospect St.

See images from the "Vanishing Ice" exhibit and learn more about it at vanishing-ice.org.

Robert Mittendorf is a Bellingham Herald copy editor and page designer. Suggest your ideas for local family-friendly events or day trips at robert.mittendorf@bellinghamherald.com or 360-756-2805.

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