Social Issues November 17, 2011
Expert: Polar Bears are "Doomed" in Manitoba and Ontario

The Polar Bear Cam is still live - but prospects for the future of the animals in Manitoba and Ontario are dim, according to the world's best-known polar bear expert. Wildlife biologist Ian Stirling, president of the Society for Marine Mammalogy and a Scientist Emeritus with the Canadian Wildlife Service who's been studying polar bears for 41 years, believes it is now too late to prevent the Arctic species from ceasing to exist on the shores of Hudson Bay within decades.

What's driving the reduction in bear population? Increasingly long periods without ice have led to less feeding on seals, lighter females, fewer births and more mortality among the southernmost polar bear populations. And Stirling is very clear on what's causing the reduction in ice: "Long term, if we don't stop climate warming and the continued melt of sea ice, that population [of bears on Hudson Bay] will disappear, maybe in 30 or 40 years", he said in an interview.

The ice in Churchill, Manitoba, where the Polar Bear Cam is located, now breaks up an average of three weeks earlier than it did three decades ago. According to calculations by Andrew Derocher, Stirling's former graduate student, the Western Hudson Bay sub-population of polar bears will soon reach a tipping point where the population will plummet quickly.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government announced their decision last week to list polar bears as a "species of special concern", rather than as "threatened" or "endangered". According to the Center for Biological Diversity, their decision "affords the bears no substantive protections".

Last season, we went up to Churchill to see the polar bears first hand and talk to the experts - including Andrew Derocher - about what's happening to their habitat. You can watch that special right here.

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