Late Freeze means Hardship for Polar Bears of Hudson Bay

December 13, 2010

Warning: This video contains graphic material that may be extremely disturbing to some people.

• Description from the Center for Biological Diversity:
This video includes disturbing footage of a malnourished polar bear mother and her two cubs in western Hudson Bay, Canada. Some may choose not to watch, because it includes graphic scenes of a malnourished cub experiencing seizures.
Both cubs died within two days of the November 23, 2010, filming.
As difficult as the images are to watch, they show the real-life struggle polar bears face each day trying to survive on a warming planet. Malnourishment, starvation and even cannibalism have become facts of life for polar bears in western Hudson Bay and other areas.

According to CTV news, Polar bears in northern Manitoba are experiencing the negative effects of a late freeze on Hudson Bay, getting started on their winter hunting weeks later than usual.

I’m reprinting part of the CTV article here, quoting University of Alberta researcher Andrew Derocher:
“They were early off the ice and now they’re late getting on.

“Some of these bears have had a very long on-land period. A lot of the bears are just running out of steam.”

Polar bears tend not to hunt during the summer, which they spend on the land. They can burn up to a kilogram of fat a day as they wait to return to the sea ice.

Adult males are big enough to make it through the extended fast. But this summer was tough on mother bears and cubs, Derocher said.

“If you’re a mother that’s nursing cubs, if you run out of energy you stop producing milk,” he said. “Your cubs then have to rely on their own fat stores and because cubs have such low fat stores it eventually means they’re going to die.

“One of the things that was observed this year is that in at least some family groups the mothers stopped nursing and the cubs died on land. We don’t usually see that.”

Derocher said that means fewer cubs that grow to adulthood, further stressing a population that’s been in decline for years.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity,

Polar bears are completely dependent upon large expanses of sea ice to hunt, feed and survive. They use the sea ice as a platform to capture seals and other prey. Global warming is rapidly melting their ice and lengthening the ice-free season, forcing bears to spend ever-longer periods of time on land, where there is little for them to eat. The longer bears like the ones in this video are stranded on land, the more likely they are to starve.

Polar bears were listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2008 due to sea-ice declines and dwindling populations. The U.S. population is projected to go extinct by 2050 if climate change in not reined in soon; the entire species may disappear by the end of the century. The polar bears of western Hudson Bay are on the front line of global warming impacts: their population declined by 22 percent between 1987 and 2004 and may be the first driven extinct by climate change.

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