Reading Practice



From the British Council:
The Polar Bear's Dinner

The Polar Bear’s Dinner
So, I’m a polar bear, right? Got that? A polar bear. Not one of those brown bears that live in forests and on mountains. One of those big white ones, you know, surely. Where do I live? On an iceberg of course, not that far from the North Pole. We never go too near the North Pole though, it’s much too cold up there. We prefer to live in places like Greenland. You must have seen one of us on one of those tv documentaries. Or perhaps in a zoo somewhere. People think we’re cute and friendly. Unfortunately, I have to say that’s not entirely true. We don’t often attack people, probably because there aren’t many people up here to attack. I guess if you just leave us alone, we’re perfectly happy.
So, I’m sitting on my iceberg, perfectly happy, it’s my favourite iceberg this one, a great place for sitting around, hanging out, chatting to a few friends every now and then, catching fish and whatever else I can find. I’m sitting on my iceberg when I notice something strange. My favourite iceberg is getting smaller. Well, either my iceberg is getting smaller, or perhaps I’m getting bigger. Now then, if I’m getting bigger it means I’m getting fat. But I can’t be getting fat, because I’ve also noticed that recently I haven’t been eating very much at all. I sit on my favourite iceberg, hanging out, chatting to friends, you know, the usual, but I do notice that there are far fewer fish around now than there were a few years ago.
Let me tell you a few things about polar bears. We only live at the North Pole, not the South one. And no, I’ve never met a penguin. You know why? Because penguins only live in the South Pole, and not the north one. It’s a long way from one pole to the other, so we rarely meet. There was a cousin of mine though, who ended up in a zoo, and they put him in the enclosure next to the penguins. He said the penguins were ok, but they were pretty noisy.
Let me tell you something else about polar bears: we get cold. Yes, that’s a surprise, isn’t it? I bet you thought we’d have layers of fur and fat to keep us warm from the arctic cold. Well, we do, but it’s never quite enough. We still get cold. I do anyway, and so do most of the other polar bears I talk to (and, believe me, I talk to a lot of polar bears.)
So, where was I? Sorry, yes, I was telling you that I was sitting on my iceberg, noticing that the iceberg was getting smaller and the fish were getting fewer, when this walrus arrives. Now, I’m a pretty easy-going polar bear (as long as you don’t try and put me in a zoo!), but there is one thing I hate. Walruses. Perhaps you’ve never met a walrus. If you haven’t, don’t. They’re awful. Loud and smelly and stupid. Always bothering us. I mean, I know we eat them sometimes (we polar bears are happy to eat anything), but that’s no reason for them to be so offensive. There’s nothing that’s going to ruin my day as much as a walrus, and here comes Mr. Walrus. I tried to catch him, but it was no good, he was too quick for me. He just splashed around in the water making that terrible noise they make and shouting at me.
“Hey stupid!” he shouted. “Yes you! Big stupid polar bear! What’s the matter? Can’t you catch me? Of course you can’t! You know why? Because you’re iceberg’s disappearing! Ha! Ha! Ha!” Like I said, I hate walruses.
“I know that, ugly” I shouted to him. “If you can tell me why it’s happening then perhaps I won’t have you for my dinner!” “You’re as stupid as all polar bears!” replied this extremely cheeky walrus. “Global warming! Never heard of it, have you? Bye now!” And then the walrus dived back under the water and splashed away. I did have to admit that I had never heard of global warming, so when a few of the other bears were around, I asked them if they’d heard anything about it.
“Oh yeah” they said. “It means the sea is getting warmer, so the ice is melting.”
“What’s causing it?” I asked.
“Humans, of course” they replied. Honestly, as if zoos weren’t bad enough. Now they’re trying to melt our ice as well.
“It’s always humans” said one of my friends. “That’s why there aren’t as many fish now as well. The humans are eating them all.”
This really was bad news. No iceberg; no fish. No dinner for me. Other than the occasional walrus if I manage to catch one.
“The problem is” continued my friend, “there’s very little we can do about it. I mean, how can we stop the humans?”
“Look” I said, “If there are no fish, then that’s bad news for the walruses too, isn’t it? They eat fish too.”
“I guess so” said my friend. “So that means...”
“Exactly...”
“No!”
“Yes...we’ll have to team up with the walruses if we want to do anything...”
“No way! Impossible! Absolutely out of the question!” shouted all the others. You see, I’m not the only polar bear who doesn’t like walruses. So, the next day, I’m sitting there on my favourite iceberg again, and along comes the same cheeky walrus.
“Caught anything yet? Ha! Ha! Ha!”
“Listen ugly” I replied to him. “You’re right about global warming, but what you haven’t realised – probably because you’re stupid as well as ugly – is that the humans who are causing global warming are also eating all our fish.” The walrus didn’t say anything, so I carried on. “The only way we can stop them is if we work together...polar bears and walruses and everyone else who lives here...”
“Work with you!!! No way!!!!” shouted the walrus, and off he went. So, I’m sitting here on my iceberg, and my iceberg’s getting smaller everyday, and I’m getting hungrier everyday. Some other polar bears, I hear, the ones who live closer to places where there are more humans are going to the humans’ rubbish bins and eating everything they can find there. That’s one solution, I guess, but I’d rather have some nice fresh fish – or big juicy piece of walrus – than humans’ rubbish. I’d really like there to be a happy end to this story I’m telling you, but at the moment there isn’t. What am I going to have for my dinner?
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The article that you can listen to in the podcast;
An optional vocabulary activity based on the article;
Links to other activities on the LearnEnglish website on this theme (oceans and seafaring)

The Sea Monsters

Sea monsters
by Linda Baxter

Question: What animal is over 30 feet long, has a big head, enormous eyes, a mane like a lion, a long neck, a body like a snake and lots of arms like an octopus?
Answer: Nobody knows.
But sailors have been telling stories about giant creatures of the sea for hundreds of years. The monsters that sailors and fishermen describe are all slightly different but it's often an animal like a giant snake, at least 30 feet long, with an enormous head and neck. It sometimes actually attacks the ship. Some of these sea monsters turned out to be big pieces of seaweed or wood, but other stories are not so easy to explain. So what can these monsters be?
They could be sharks
There is an unusual type of shark that is shaped like an eel. It has a frill around its neck, which could look like a lion's mane. But the biggest one ever caught was only 25 feet long. Another type of shark, the 'basking shark', can grow to about 40 feet in length. In the 1970s a Japanese fishing boat caught an enormous dead 'monster' with a long neck. Scientists tested some small pieces of the animal and discovered that it was a basking shark. When these sharks die, parts of them rot very quickly, which gives them a very strange shape. But this doesn't explain stories about living, moving sea monsters.
They could be just very big snakes
The biggest snake in the world is the anaconda. One was found in the 1940s measuring 35 feet but there are no photographs to prove it. South American Indians tell stories of even bigger ones. The problem with this theory is that the anaconda is native to South America and can't survive in cold water.
They could be giant squid
This is an interesting theory. Scientists all accept that the giant squid really exists but we don't see them very often because they live in deep, cold water. They can be up to 50 feet in length and have the biggest eyes in the animal kingdom - over one-foot in diameter. And there are reports of much bigger ones too. They have a strong mouth like a bird's beak that can cut through steel cables and five pairs of arms, or tentacles. One pair is longer and thinner and is used to catch food. People have seen giant squid attacking whales for food. In the 1960s some Russian sailors reported watching a fight between a whale and a giant squid. Both animals died; the whale was found dead with the squid's arms wrapped around its neck, and the squid's head was found in the whale's stomach. There are also reports of giant squid attacking ships, maybe thinking that they were whales. So stories of giant sea snakes wrapped around ships could actually be one or two arms of a giant squid.
They could be giant octopuses
These creatures also exist. There are varieties of octopus with bodies as big as 23 feet around. But there are also stories that there may be an unknown variety that grows much, much bigger. An enormous animal was found dead and rotting on a beach in Florida in the 1890s. Parts of it seemed to be huge arms - over 30 feet long. Scientists tested a small part of the body but couldn't agree whether it was a whale or an octopus. The giant octopus has a strong mouth like the giant squid, but only has eight arms. They live at the bottom of the sea and use their arms to move around over the rocks. This explains why we don't see them very often.
They could be ancient sea animals, which have survived from the time of the dinosaurs
We know that strange animals lived in the sea during pre-historic times and many of them were very big indeed. They didn't look like fish and they had to come up to the surface of the water to breathe air. Perhaps when the dinosaurs died out, these sea creatures survived and have lived in the oceans ever since. Is that possible? Well maybe it is. In 1938 a strange fish was caught in the Indian Ocean. Scientists eventually identified it as a coelacanth (pronounced 'seel-a-kanth') which everyone thought had died out over 70 million years ago. And another type of coelacanth was found in the 1990s in South East Asia.
Article from the British Council: