By Margaret Black
The word "Arctic" is derived from the ancient Greek word "Arktikos," which means "land of the great bear." Throughout history, northern peoples have revered "the great sea bear" or Polar Bear, an animal perfectly suited to life in one of the most hostile environments on the planet.
Polar Bears are, indeed, amazing creatures!
DID YOU KNOW...
Over the past several years, climate change has caused the sea ice in the north to retreat at an unprecedented rate. The amount, thickness and timing of sea ice break up have all been affected. In January 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed earlier predictions that, due to climate warming, the sea ice melting trend will continue into the future. This puts Polar Bears at risk because their range is limited by the availability of sea ice, which they use as a platform for hunting seals. Many Polar Bears that would normally follow the retreat of sea ice and continue to hunt throughout the summer months, are now being driven inland, when sea ice melts entirely, forcing them to spend their summers fasting and living off fat stores in their bodies. Inuit and scientific observations both confirm that this trend is already having a negative impact on adult body condition, cub survival and population numbers.
Hunting, increased human activity in the Arctic and pollution also put Polar Bears at risk. Human activity often disturbs spring denning and feeding, and research has shown that Polar Bears are vulnerable to pollutants, which may interfere with their hormone regulation, immune system function and reproduction.
Even at the best of times, Polar Bear reproductive rates are very low. Most females only breed every three years; they raise their cubs until they are two-and-a-half years old. This makes it hard for Polar Bears to recover quickly, when their numbers are reduced.
In 1972, the U.S. passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits the harassment, injuring or killing of all marine mammal species, including Polar Bears.
In 1973, Canada, the U.S., Denmark, Norway and the former U.S.S.R. signed the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat. The goal of this agreement was to protect Polar Bear habitat, especially denning and feeding areas and migration routes. Since that agreement was signed, Norway has had a complete ban on Polar Bear hunting in place.
In 2000, the Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Russian Federation on the Conservation and Management of the Alaska-Chukotka Polar Bear Population was signed.
In 2005, Greenland began placing limits on the hunting of Polar Bears.
In 2006, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) up-listed the Polar Bear from 'Lower Risk' to 'Vulnerable' on its Threatened Species Red List. This was primarily because of the threat posed by climate change-related declines in sea ice.
The American Government is currently considering a proposal that the Polar Bear be listed as 'Threatened' under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, due to sea ice-related concerns for the species' survival. A final decision is expected late in 2007.
Since 2002, the Polar Bear has been listed as a species of "Special Concern," under Canada's Species at Risk Act. Hunting of Polar Bears is allowed, under this classification, but there is a quota system in place to prevent over-harvesting. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is currently reviewing the Polar Bear's status. The committee is expected to provide recommendations to the Minister of the Environment, regarding a suitable listing, in 2008.
Despite these conservation efforts, based on moderate projections of summer sea ice retreat, the U.S. Geological Survey predicts that two-thirds of the world's Polar Bears will disappear by 2050. Polar Bears will no longer inhabit Europe, Asia or Alaska, and their numbers would be greatly reduced in the Canadian Arctic and the northern Greenland. The U.S. Geological Survey further speculates that, by 2080, Polar Bears will disappear entirely from Greenland and the northern Canadian coast, leaving only a remnant population living in and around the Canadian Arctic islands.
HOW YOU CAN HELP!
World Wildlife Fund International:
10 good ideas for a start
to renewable energy
2. Buy energy efficient
3. Fluorescent lamps are cheaper
in the long run
4. Avoid stand-by and turn off
5. Wash economically
6. About your fridge
7. Getting around and on your way
to work and school
8. About your car
your air travel
10. Enjoy the sun!
We can all do
something right away.
B. Make a donation to World Wildlife Fund Canada!