Can We Save the Polar Bears?
Can we save the Polar bears? Imagine that you are a child waking up on crisp cool morning in a small village on the outskirts of Alaska. You stretch, throw on some clothes and go running outside. It’s summer, the days are long, and you have a lot planned. You are what is considered a local, you were born in Alaska, so were your parents and their parents. One of your favorite things to do is hunt Polar bears. You are used to the cold temperatures, the ice and the snow. Then one day in your early thirties a new law is enacted stating that you can no longer go hunting for Polar bears. This is something as a local you have always been able to do.
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You begin to wonder why this change why you cannot do something you were taught as a kid. You had planned on passing down the family tradition to your kids as well. You go looking for information on what is going on. You have noticed that things are changing. Summers are longer, temperatures are warmer, and the glaciers are melting You find out that Polar bears are on the endangered list and that there are many cases in court right now trying to move their rank up to the extinction list. You wonder how this could be possible and what you can do to help. You plan on finding out all the facts and coming up with a solution.
The question is can we stop the Polar bears from going extinct? Is the cause of the Polar bears problem man made, or is this a natural occurrence? There are many people who believe the Polar bears are just animals, and why should we care? I will take on the challenge to show you why each person should care about just one animal. Because if we can just pass on by with blinders on and allow one animal to die off, then what is stopping us from doing it again? Polar bears are Northern hemisphere animals. They reside mainly in Alaska, Canada and Russia, where the formation of glaciers and sea ice are abundant. The ice is a platform to hunt seals, and if they don’t have that platform they are in big trouble,” says Ian Stirling, research scientist Emeritus at Environment Canada in Edmonton. Polar bears thrive on the shorelines of the ice formations, where the food is in abundance and hunting is easy. They feed mainly on seals and other animals such as fish. One of the main reasons that the Polar bears live on the sea ice edge is because that is where the animals that they feed of off live. The main reason for eating seals is that they are rich in fat content which helps the bears put on fat for the cold winters to come(Stirling 262).
Polar bears mate during the months of March and June. They find their mates on the best hunting grounds where the seals are found. After the females have found their mate and become pregnant, they are then on the lookout for the best place to dig a den. The females like to dig holes in the soft snow drifts that have become more permanent on the cold glacier floors for their dens. The females then stay in the dens and give birth over the long winter month. At which point her cubs usually a set of two, are born.
During the first few months the mother polar bear nurses her cubs and depends on the fat rich foods that she has consumed over the past few months of hunting (Stirling 263). After the cubs are a few months old they venture out into the world with their mother. They begin to learn to hunt, play and swim the arctic weather full of ice. Polar bears can live up to 30 years however, with the degradation of the habitat only a small percentage of bears are living past the age of 12 (Cone 46). One of the main reasons that the longevity of the Polar bears has decreased is due to the melting of the ice shelf. In Canada’s western Hudson Bay, the sea ice where they hunt seals breaks up three weeks earlier now than 30 years ago, Polar bears have declined from 1,200 in 1985 to fewer than 950 in 2004”(Clark 347). This is a prime example of how the climatic change and the warming of the earth is causing dramatic negative effects on the natural habitat of the Polar bear. As the Polar bear habitat has changed over the years, the Polar bears have been struggling to keep pace. This is evident by the reduction in the population size and the average age of an adult Polar bear.
A report released by the United States Geological Survey 2010 it stated that in the next 40 years there would be even more reduction in the Arctic sea ice. And within that time the resulting loss could be up to two thirds of the ice sheets melting. However, these estimates could be conservative because ice sheets are melting at a faster rate than was ever predicted (Campbell 46). It is obvious that there are many experts that see the Polar bears’ situation the same way. They believe that the Polar bears are in serious need of more protection and laws that are in their favor to stop the ice sheets from melting away from under their feet.
Sea ice is the main feature of the arctic seas and the Polar bears habitat. Global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cause a reduction in its thickness and overall sustainability of their habitat. The ice is the platform from where the Polar bear hunts and lives. As the climate warms the thickness of the sea ice and glaciers will continue to decrease (Stirling 242). According to the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Model from the United States the extent of the sea ice coverage will be reduced by almost 80 percent of its current coverage by 2050 (Vinnikov 286).
It is evident that many scientists agree that the Polar bears habitat is being destroyed. I agree with the scientists and their findings and predictions. There is insurmountable evidence that points to the reduction of the sea ice which directly affects the Polar bears habitat and their existence. There is a huge controversy as to why the Polar bears habitat is changing for the worse. There are scientists on both sides of the argument. Some stating that the culprit is global warming, while others state that is impossible and it is just normal climatic changes. “It’s no secret the Arctic is changing.
From 1970 to 2000, average temperatures there increased 3. 5 degrees” (Stirling 264). As a former geology major I agree with the scientist and their assessment of continuing temperature increases which results in sea ice melting at a faster rate. This is due to the fact that the average sea temperature is rising along with the average temperature of the Earth. These two things combined together increase the speed at which the sea ice melts. One of the things that contributes to the rate of temperature increase is greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions are created from the burning of fossil fuels and combustion engines.
As these fossil fuels are used they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which is the caught by the Earth’s ozone layer create a gas in a bubble effect. These green house gas emissions add to the natural gases that the earth already has and creates a more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the faster the temperature of the Earth rises. “Cutting greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades may stabilize the rapidly shrinking Arctic sea ice sufficiently to provide a sustainable habitat for Polar bears, a paper in the December 2004 Nature reports” (Stirling 267).
If we as a society can cut green house gas emissions over the next few decades then we can probably slow the rate of the Earth’s temperature increase. In doing so we can slow the rate of the ice sheets melting; this will preserve the habitat of the polar bear and their existence. There are several small things each person can do to help reduce greenhouse gases. For example, use a clothes line instead of a dryer, carpool whenever possible, if you can afford it buy a low emissions care and invest in solar panels for electricity.
Another reason that the polar bear population is decreasing is due to the fact that many polar bears are dying young due to drowning. “Marine biologists in Alaska reported finding four drowned Polar bears, perhaps because they were unable to swim long distances to reach solid ice”(Cone 46). Due to the ice sheets melting and breaking up, Polar bears are finding that they have to swim longer distances to find solid ice. When they cannot find a solid piece of ice to climb up onto they end up drowning. This is another fact supports the decreasing numbers of the Polar bear population.
As stated earlier even hunting of Polar bears has become a monitored and limited activity. First in Alaska the population size is measured. The government has strict regulations on how many females, males and cubs must be present in a population before permits will be issued. Each Year the population size has been decreasing, therefore, fewer and fewer permits are be issued. Of the 26 Polar Bear populations 20 of them are well monitored. However, the other six are in areas with minimal government regulations, for example, Russia and Canada. To date Canada still allows non residents to hunt polar bears with permits (Campbell 50).
For Polar Bears to be have a long and happy existence we need to find a way to nationalize the problem that exists, so that all areas where the Polar Bear lives have regulations to help prevent the over harvesting and degradation of the species. Gruben, a local hunter in Canada, is of the few men each year that gets to purchase a permit to hunt Polar Bears. This year he paid $30,000 apiece for permits and was only able to obtain two. The reason that permits are so much is to limit the number of people that are willing to pay to hunt Polar bears. Gruben believes that there is no need to protect the Polar Bear.
He states that the Polar Bear numbers have been just fine and if something goes wrong here we will know it, we live it. He believes that he has more experience with animal because he has been hunting them for over fifty years (Campbell 46). I think that Gruben is naive; just because he has hunted the animal for over fifty years does not make him an expert on the species. He has no clue as to how the entire species is reacting to the climatic changes. Gruben may have firsthand knowledge on the population that is in his area; however this does not make him and expert on the overall position of the species.
It would seem to be obvious that if the government is stepping in and enacting regulations to save the animal, that there is a problem. However, it is evident that everyone does not see it this way. Another issue with Polar Bear hunting in Canada is the economic effect that a complete ban would have. Many cities that are still allowed to issue permits on a limited basis see an increase in spending and tourism. The government is fearful that a straight out ban would hinder the economy in many of these small towns. In some cases a ban would practically wipe towns off the map. Every dollar raised by the sport hunt produces five times as much food for the community that hosts it” (Campbell 50). I can understand how small towns have become dependent on the tourism that the sport hunting creates. However if there are not strict regulations imposed in many areas and full bans in other areas, where Polar Bear populations are decreasing then there will be no Polar Bears to hunt. If we are not able to make some changes to our habits and the way we live our lives, polar bears are doomed. They will be the next animal on the chopping block of extinction. Polar bears could disappear within 50 years if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated” (Spotts). Hopefully we can do something to stop this prediction from becoming fact. There are others who believe that polar bears are not on the brink of extinction. That they are not on what is called the tipping point of their existence. “Polar bears do not appear to be doomed by what we have contributed already” to atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, says Cecilia Bitz. Bitz has been researching the polar ice caps and their movements for years, as well greenhouse gas changes mapped through glaciers.
The people that are based in this camp of thinking are not taking into account the future rise in green house gas emissions. Obviously the greenhouse gases that we have contributed to this point have not pushed the Polar bears to extinction because they are still here. But if we are not careful and are not willing to look towards the future and the trends that seem to be unraveling we will be too late to react and save this species. Another factor that is affecting the Polar bear habitat is local pollution. The pollution in Alaska for example, has shown that there are increasing amounts of heavy metals in both Polar bears and their food.
This is caused by pollutants that leak from manufacturing and oil companies. These metals include but are not limited to mercury and cadmium, bioaccumulate. The metals build up in the organs of the animals over the life span of the bear and can affect brain development as well as lowering the sperm count in the male bears, making it harder for them to reproduce. Another factor that has been well documented is the increase in radioactivity. This increase has been attributed to the testing of nuclear bombs, discharge of nuclear power plants and the increase in accidents at these power plants.
Although the local pollution does not affect all of the Polar bear populations, it does put a strain on the species overall (Norris 17). As we can see there is more than just one attack on the Polar Bears’ way of life. This is another factor that hinders the Polar bears existence. The radioactivity makes the Polar bears’ unhealthy, which is turn hurts their species overall. Persistent organic pollutants which include a wide range of toxic substances such as industrial chemicals and by-products of industrial processes as well as pesticides like DDT, dieldrin and lindane, and herbicides are causing any health risks to the Polar bears. The mains health risks are reproductions decreases and reproductive abnormalities due to high levels of these pollutants as well as immune deficiencies (AMAP 188). It is apparent that there are many manmade and natural attacks that are currently affect the Polar bears and their habitat. These manmade pollutants can be minimized by installing stricter laws for the companies that use them. The natural pollutants unfortunately would be much harder to minimize due to the fact that they are naturally occurring in the Polar bears’ habitat.
Therefore the only thing that we can do is to find a way to counteract the effects by ways of immunizations or other medical advances. “The polar bear has become the unwitting pawn of an environmental war” (Campbell 47). In recent years with the expansion of the oil industry in the Arctic Circle, the Polar bear has become the center of many legal battles. Currently there are several cases in the United States and Canadian courts that are trying to protect the Polar bears’ habitat. The Oil industry wants to expand their efforts for oil exploration under the glaciers.
However, there are many local and conservation groups that oppose this move. These groups are afraid that the oil exploration will cause non reversible effects on the habitat. For example, if a pipeline were to break in the ocean the Polar bear, along with many other species, would be at great risk. An oil leak itself is not the only thing that puts animals in the Arctic at risk; for example, the oil extraction process discharges harmful toxins that pollute the Polar bears and their environment (Norris 19).
I believe that this fight is not only warranted but needed. I know that there is a massive push to find oil reserves that are in the United States. However, we need to consider all of the repercussions that this venture may have, not only on Polar bears, but on all animals in the proposed exploration area. The area in which the proposed exploration is to take place is a very remote and hard to get to. If by chance there was an accident, clean up teams and help would be hours away. Therefore, it would only make sense not to follow through with this idea.
For example, according to Reuters a writer for CNBC it took the crews over 2 weeks to get the oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 under control. That does not include the massive damage that was caused not only to the animals but to their habitats as well. This is a prime example of an oils spill that happened in an easily accessible area and took weeks to get it stopped. So what happens if a spill or a leak happens in the remote area such as Alaska? It would not only take crews along time to reach the area but it would also take them a long time to get the equipment into the area to resolve the situation.
Therefore it would stand to reason that the proposed venture is a bad idea. The dramatic projection of the decline in the Polar bears habitat over the years has drawn worldwide media attentions. However, because the forecast of the climate change is so uncertain and there are scientists who claim they have the scientific edge in the fight on both sides; it is hard for people to determine where to place their allegiances. Taylor, a retired manager of the wildlife research, states that some reports that have been released in the past few years by the United States Geological Survey are biased.
He states that these reports have overstated the severity of the situations and that it is not the scientists’ place to try to persuade people but rather to present the facts (Campbell 47). I believe that now more than ever animals that are endangered, such as Polar bears, are coming into the media lime light because the environment is becoming more of a serious issue to most people. It is obvious that there are people who disagree with the situation and the scientific facts that are presented about the Polar bears.
However, it would seem that just because someone disagrees with what is being presented does not mean that it is incorrect. Especially when there are more than one scientist that has presented the information. In 1965 the Polar bear Specialist Group was formed. Their main goal was to help prevent the extinction of this animal. Since the establishment of the group they have tried to unite the five areas in which the Polar Bears live. The group consists of three appointed governmental heads of state from the five participating nations.
The primary role of the group is to promote cooperation between the five nations, so that the Polar Bear populations can be constantly and accurately monitored (Prestrude 12). In 1973 the five nations ratified the Agreement of the Conservation of the Polar bears. Its main goals are “to protect the polar bear habitat, especially denning areas, feeding areas, and migratory routes, ban the hunt of bears from aircraft and large motorized boats, conduct and coordinating management and research efforts, exchange research results and data, and, manage shared populations n accordance with sound conservation practices” (Norris 21). I think that it is amazing that there are groups out there that are fighting for the Polar bears and their habitat. There are many things over the years that have been instituted to try to stop the decline of the Polar bears. However, it is obvious with the recent decline of Polar bear numbers that there is more that needs to be done. There are a number of protected areas that have been set aside for Polar bears. In the United States there are several areas in Alaska which have designated as National Wildlife Refuge or National Park.
However, there is no water area that has been protected. In Canada Several National Parks and National Park Reserves have been set aside for both summer and denning areas for the Polar bears. However again there has been not water area that has been protected. In Greenland, Northeast Greenland National Park is the largest Polar bear sanctuary that has been setup. It protects both the summer and denning areas of the Polar bears. However, licensed hunting is still allowed in designated areas. There are also many other areas where Polar bears have protected habitats (Prestude 5).
Over the years it has been come apparent for the need to provide protected areas for Polar bears. However, there needs to be more effort put into protecting water areas for the Polar bears since that is where the main source of their food comes from. It is obvious that there has been a push into protecting the Polar bears and their habitat, however there is still more that needs to be done. There are many challenges that face conservation efforts; for example, the governmental regulations that need to be put in place for the greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced.
Another factor that needs to be considered is the game hunting that has become a practice in areas such as Canada. We need to be able to keep restrictions on the number of Polar Bears that are hunted and killed each for sport hunting and livelihood of locals. As well as local pollutants from human activities such as oil exploration, need to be monitored and minimized. There have been many advances in the conservation efforts for Polar bears and their habitat with the push for preserved summer habitats and winter denning areas. However there has been no push for preserving any of the sea areas where the Polar bears hunt.
In the future this could cause some major concerns due to the fact that the Polar bears food source lives in the ocean. So there are some things that have been started to try to stop the extinction of this species but there is more that needs to be done if we are going to stop these animals from being the next animal of the chopping block. Works Cited AMAP “Arctic Pollution Issues: A State of the Arctic Environment Report. ” (2007): 1-15. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme. Web. 15 May 2011 Campbell, Colin, and Kate Lunau. “THE WAR OVER THE POLAR BEAR. (Cover story). ” Maclean’s 121. /5 (2008): 46-52. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 26 Apr. 2011. Clark D. A. , Stirling, I. and Calvert, W. “Distribution, characteristics and use of earth dens related to excavations by polar bears on the Western Hudson Bay lowlands. ” (1997): 158-166. Arctic 50. Web. 15 May 2011 Cone, Marla. “On Thin Ice. ” Mother Jones 31. 2 (2006): 46. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 26 Apr. 2011. Prestrud, P. and Stirling, I. “The international polar bear agreement and the current status of polar bear conservation. ” (1994): 1-12. Aquatic Mammals. Web. 15 May 2011 Spotts, Pete. “Polar bear ‘doomed’?
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