We’ve all seen the photographs of ravenous polar bears, struggling to survive climate change. But as global temperatures proceed to rise, experts say bears today are spending as much as a month longer than their parents waiting for the ice to return after summer.
Every yr, starting in late June when the bay ice disappears, polar bears within the northern Canadian province of Manitoba move onto shore to start a period of forced fasting.
Without the ocean ice they’re unable to hunt for seals, their primary source of food.
“While these bears sit on shore, they’re losing a kilo or two day by day. That may go on for about 180 days before they really begin to have an issue,” says Geoff York, senior director of conservation at Polar Bears International (PBI).
Polar bears could starve to extinction as a consequence of global warming
Once on solid ground, the bears “typically have only a few options for food,” explains York.
York spends several weeks annually in Churchill, a small town on the sting of the Arctic in Manitoba. There he follows the fortunes of the endangered polar bears.
Climate warming is affecting the Arctic 3 times as fast as other parts of the world – even 4 times, in line with some recent studies. So sea ice, the habitat of the polar bear, is steadily disappearing.
“The fate of the polar bear should alarm everyone” because the Arctic is an excellent “barometer” of the planet’s health, says Flavio Lehner, a climate scientist at Cornell University who was a part of the expedition.
For the reason that Eighties, the ice pack in Hudson bay has decreased by nearly 50 per cent in summer, in line with the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre.
If a bear is lucky enough to seek out a beluga whale carcass or if a seal dares to swim too near shore, the big carnivore may give you the chance to eat throughout the summer. But for many of those months they’re fasting, or eating very small snacks of any fish they’re capable of catch.
A report published two years ago within the journal Nature Climate Change suggested that this trend may lead to the near-extinction of those majestic animals: 1,200 of them were counted on the western shores of Hudson Bay within the Eighties. Today one of the best estimate is 800.
What happens when a polar bear is ravenous?
The polar bear, technically often called the Ursus maritimus, is a meticulous carnivore that feeds principally on the white fat that envelops and insulates a seal’s body.
But lately this superpredator of the Arctic sometimes has to feed on seaweed, as a mother and her baby were seen doing not removed from the port of Churchill, the self-declared ‘Polar Bear Capital’.
If female bears go greater than 117 days without adequate food, they struggle to nurse their young, says Steve Amstrup, PBI’s lead scientist.
Consequently, births have declined, and it has turn into much rarer for a female to provide birth to 3 cubs, once a standard occurrence.
As a polar bear’s physical condition declines, York says, their tolerance for risk rises, and “which may bring them into interaction with people, which might result in conflict as a substitute of co-existence.”
Hunger draws polar bears into dangerous proximity of towns
In desperation, bears began frequenting the local dump in Churchill, Manitoba – a source of easy, but potentially harmful, food for them. They could possibly be seen ripping open rubbish bags, eating plastic or getting their snouts trapped in food tins amid piles of burning waste.
Since then, the town has taken precautions: The dump is now guarded by cameras, fences and patrols.
A conservation officer, Ian Van Nest, patrols the town’s limits to maintain its 800 inhabitants secure. Every morning he checks the areas around schools to make sure the kids will probably be secure upon arrival.
All across the town, people leave cars and houses unlocked in case someone needs to seek out urgent shelter during an unpleasant encounter with this massive land-based carnivore.
Posted on partitions around town are the emergency phone numbers to succeed in Van Nest or his colleagues.
Once they get an urgent call, they hop of their pickup truck armed with a rifle and a twig can of repellent, wearing protective flak jackets. He emphasises that they don’t shoot on the bears, but fire warning shots to scare them off.
Sometimes the animals must be sedated, then winched up by a helicopter to be transported to the north, or kept in a cage until winter, after they can again feed on the bay.
Churchill’s only ‘prison’ is inhabited entirely by bears, a hangar whose 28 cells can replenish within the autumn because the creatures maraud in mass around town while waiting for the ice to re-form in November.
Watch the video above to learn more about polar bears in Canada.