Polar Bears and Climate Change
Greetings Nature Enthusiasts,
Welcome to my first column here on the Corkboard at Natural Exposures. I’m writing to you from the shores of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba. It’s hard to believe but I’m sitting in the comforts of a Tundra Buggy, running a streaming video feed for Polar Bears International which is being broadcast across the Internet via the National Geographic website.
All of this 1000+ air miles from Winnipeg and over 20 miles from the town of Churchill. Churchill doesn’t even have cellular service, but they do have cable and it’s the cable line that we’re tied into by way of a wireless Internet connection from our buggy to the cable station in town. I’m presently assisting a four-time Emmy award-winning cinematographer Mr. Daniel Zatz of See More Wildlife and WildlifeHD. Daniel is a technical and artistic wizard who’s combined his love for electronics, cinematography, and the outdoors to create a high-speed digital highway that allows us to bring this annual congregation of polar bears to the world.
I’ve been coming here to Churchill for over 15 years. It’s a love of the North and in particular my fanatical interest in the mightiest of all carnivores—the polar bear—that has inspired my persistent return. Churchill is the only predictable and accessible place on the planet to easily see these magnificent creatures. Polar bears can weigh as much as 1500 pounds, run as fast as 40 kilometers per hour, and withstand ongoing winter temps of -70 degrees fahrenheit or more. These are truly marvelous creatures in a land of phenomenal beauty. By natural design they are tough, resilient, and resourceful. However, their days may be numbered.
Astonishingly, the polar bears of the southern Hudson Bay region (Churchill) are predicted to die out within my lifetime of 20-30 years. That is if our climate continues to warm as it is presently doing. All polar bears depend on ice to make a living. They eat seals as their primary diet and here in the Hudson Bay region, the seals they prey on most are the bearded and ringed variety. Polar bears use the ice to catch their prey and if there is no ice, then there is no chance for feeding. Each summer the bears of this region come to shore as the ice melts out from beneath their feet, usually around the first week to the middle of July. They are then relegated to land for up to five months. In the late 80s and early 90s, they could be most likely be assured of getting back out onto the ice about the mid-part of November. Today, they are lucky to get out by the end of the third or even fourth week in November. In the last couple of years the ice didn’t freeze until well into December. Every day that they are forced to stay on land is another day they lose additional weight. Some do not have the strength to make it to the ice when it does freeze and so the final outcome is death.
I’m hopeful the demise of this population isn’t carved in stone and there are many things we can all do. These are simple ideas but on a massive scale, with each of us doing our individual part, we can make a difference. Remember to always turn out the lights when they aren’t needed and ride or walk to work or school when possible. Drive a vehicle that fits your needs. If it’s a truck then get one that has the best mileage possible. If you can get by with a smaller automobile, more conservation power to you. Most importantly, speak out to your politicians and let them know we need leadership. Not necessarily more government but encouragement to make these ideas happen. Encouragement and some incentives to industry to make better products that take conservation into account. Going green won’t hurt our economy as so many current politicians profess. Take Toyota for example; the Prius, a new hybrid vehicle is one they’re charging premium prices for and yet they can’t keep them on the lot. Once again a foreign company is beating us to the proverbial punch and will not only be eating our financial lunch but doing it with automobiles that are good for the planet as well. There’s money in the green market and we need to support politicians that see that future and we need to fire the ones that live for the past.
The polar bear may be the inspiration we need to finally start asking the proper questions regarding our possible contribution to climate change. Even if you don’t believe that global warming is human induced, why not take out an insurance policy based on better conservation practices? We will not only be doing the planet and ourselves a favor, but we’ll be driving our economy at the same time. I’m hopeful that we can all make a difference. What do you think?