Friday, September 15, 2006

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures...but just how desperate are these hungry polar bears? Read on to find out.

In 1999, scientists from the Canadian Wildlife Service published a study on the recent effects of global warming on a population of polar bears in the Hudson Bay area. What they found is relatively old news to us now. The arctic ice caps were melting, forcing the bears back to land much sooner, and shortening their hunting seasons. Hungry polar bears, which prefer to eat ringed seals at sea, were beginning to wander closer inland in search of food. During this year officials had reported 36 encounters with polar bears trying to rummage through trash, 16 more than in the previous year. The scientists had also observed decreasing weights in both male and female polar bears, resulting in fewer cubs, but no significant decline in population.

Fast forward seven years. Arctic sea ice melted at record levels in 2005 and again this year. This means that polar bears are spending even more time on land than in previous years, leading to many more human encounters. The bears are seeking trash as their food, not humans. However, if a bear in any way threatens a human, it is legal to kill the animal. Also a problem is that residents in northern Canada are led to believe that the increase in encounters with polar bears means that the population is also increasing, when in fact, it’s just the opposite. Numbers have dwindled from 1,200 in the Hudson Bay area in 1989 to approximately 950 in 2004. That’s a staggering 22% drop...definitely a reason for concern. Another major concern that had been initially addressed in the 1999 study is weight loss. In the 1980's, female polar bears weighed approximately 650 lbs. Recent surveys shows them weighing in at only 510 pounds. With female weights on the decline and fewer cubs being born each year, the population is sure to continue to fall as well.

Yet another factor that could contribute to a decreasing polar bear population is an extremely alarming phenomenon for this species: cannibalism. While some bears will often kill and sometimes partially eat other bears in fights over territory or female mates, polar bears will not hunt other bears for prey. In 40 years of studying polar bears of northern Alaska and Canada, researchers had never observed this behavior. In 2004, they witnessed it three times. While it is possible that this behavior has been going on unobserved for some time, researchers believe that it is caused by extreme hunger created by the melting ice. They also believe that it is very likely that this phenomenon occurred more than 3 times, and will continue in following years.

Posted by KEM


At 12:24 AM, Blogger PWH said...

That's really interesting that the hunting season being cut short would continue to affect them after so many years. You would think they would develop a method where they could hunt a lot over that certain period of time and then store what they have left for food for the dry time. I dont think with it being in the arctic they'd have too much trouble keeping the meat fresh. I guess i don't know enough about polar bears to figure that out.

Do you know if conservationists are trying to devise a way to stop polar bears from eating each other into extinction in a matter of time?

Posted by DarkStarSpace

At 2:06 AM, Blogger PWH said...

I found your post to be very interesting and informative, as I was unaware of the present issues of polar bears and their habitat affecting their traditional means of nutrition. In your article you mentioned that it is legal for a human to kill a polar bear should they feel threatened by their behavior. I was curious if this legal behavior is also impacting the polar bear population by contributing to their decline; especially with the general public under the impression that polar bears are in abundance due to more frequent sightings and/or contacts. Also, is the destruction of the polar bear population creating a high demand for polar bear products, that would also in turn cause their population to decrease; or is the killing solely out of fear of being attacked by the animal?

Posted by: Guess

At 5:38 PM, Blogger PWH said...

A very interesting article. It won’t be long before instances of bear attack increase as more and more polar bears come into contact with humans because of their dwindling hunting territories, which of cause will lead to more humans killing polar bears out of fear.
Do you know if local governments are trying to find ways to keep Polar Bears from entering human areas and maybe looking into non-lethal ways to remove them if they do? Also are any measures being taken to discourage the belief that the higher polar bear encounter rate is not being caused by a increasing population but rather a deceasing one?

Posted by JMSieer

At 9:40 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I was on a zoological website the other day, unfortunately I cannot remember which one it was, and I read about polar bear cannibalism and it gave me the link to the Terradaliy website. I was shocked to learn that global warming was the cause of polar bear cannibalism. I frequently visit zoo and nature websites and this was the first I have ever heard about this. I never thought I would see the true effects of global warming, but this article truly hit home with me. I wish people would realize the effects we have on the environment. It saddens me to know that we would be the cause of polar bear extinction.


At 10:34 PM, Blogger PWH said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:36 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Interesting material we have here. It is really amazing that we are still not able to make a large impact on people about the effects of global warming and what should be done to prevent it (or at least slow it down, if nothing more).

Behavior-wise, could the polar bears actually now pose as a threat to humans? Considering that they are now in an even more threatened position, could it be that they are indeed aiming to kill people for a source of food?

With the decrease of polar bear populations, the ringed seals' populations are sure to be increasing. Would the global warming be changing the ringed seals' daily swimming patterns, possibly causing them to sway even further from the shores where the polar bears are normally hunting them?

The polar bears are in definate need of help, and their changing behavior needs to be recognized by local populations who need to understand the help that these polar bears need.
Great posting topic.

Posted by Abbott

At 6:41 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Very many others I didn't know polar bears were in trouble. I wonder if people in the North have more knowledge about the polar bears situation then we do "down" here. Since they're geographically closer to the problem at hand wouldn't their gouvernment try to publicize this information especially since so many polar bears have been seen in populated areas? I'm surprised that the bears dont try to change their hunting habits...obviously not to a human diet but more land bound animals instead of seals which they can't catch anyway....if the supermarket was out of beef..we would buy chicken...

Posted by AAH

At 10:03 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Your article is very interesting; when i was thinking about global warming i was only thinking about the effects on the human popuplation. But your article gave me a new perspective. I was wondering if it was because the global warming was happening very fast that they couln not really adjust or it is just that it is impossible for them to do so?
I was looking online to see if the WWF found a solution to the problem but it seems as if they just waiting for the nature to find a solution itself.


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