Is Ursus maritimus bearing up or going with the floes? The great “sea bear,” the largest land carnivore on the planet, is having serious trouble with unusual sea-ice patterns in the Arctic Ocean.
As blizzards roared across the U.S. last winter, unseasonably warm arctic temperatures led to the lowest sea-ice extent for January since satellite records began in 1979. The thin ice that did form made it difficult for bears to hunt seals, their main prey, and to find mates. Due to warming air temperatures, ice-floe breakup in some areas occurred early, further reducing the length of the polar bear feeding season.
Deadly consequences were documented. A female polar bear, fitted with a satellite collar, swam nonstop through near freezing waters for over nine days, covering a distance of 426 miles in search of the late forming sea-ice. During the exhausting swim, her yearling cub perished; she lost 22% of her own body weight.
Longer ice-free seasons can have a direct impact on pregnant female polar bears, who may fail to give birth if their fat stores are inadequate. Some populations of polar bears may be unable to reproduce at the level needed to maintain their numbers if current warming trends continue.
While most pronounced at the poles, global warming has links to the Heartland. Just follow the carbon footprints. We each contribute to climate change, creating carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil. Arctic sea-ice patterns, polar bears and Kansas – they are all connected.
The name “arctic” comes from the Greek word for bear, so the iconic “ice bear” will be featured at the Kanza Group 2011 Silent Auction. In her presentation “The Last Polar Bears?,” Debra Ryder, Director of Education for the Kansas City Zoo, will focus on the future of the wildlife of the Arctic region in the face of global climate change. She will share her recent adventures as an Arctic Ambassador for Polar Bears International in Manitoba, Canada, and update us on the zoo’s new polar bear exhibit, featuring 4 year old Nikita.
As Debra often shares with her audiences, “Whether and how we address global warming is not a question of science; it is a question of values.” Please join us for this entertaining and enlightening event. The future of the polar bear is very much at stake!
Kanza Silent Auction
By Elaine Giessel