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Climate change threatens polar bears

The Story

Just as the ice is shrinking in Hudson Bay, so are its polar bears. Climate change has shortened the season for winter ice, a crucial period for the bears to feast on seals and build up their fat reserves. And so, over the 18 years that wildlife biologist Ian Stirling has been studying them, the polar bears have become skinnier and their offspring fewer. In this 1999 report for CBC-TV's The National, Stirling says once their habitat is gone, there's nowhere else the Hudson Bay polar bears can go.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Sept. 23, 1999
Guests: Wade Roberts, Ian Stirling
Reporter: Eve Savory
Duration: 16:39

Did You know?

• The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada added the polar bear to its list of endangered species in 1991. It was considered vulnerable because of evidence that toxic chemicals were lessening its reproductive capabilities.

• In 1992 the Canadian Wildlife Service first raised the alarm about the threat climate change could pose to the polar bear.

• According to Canadian Geographic (Sept./Oct. 2004), a study showed that for every week earlier that the Arctic ice broke up in the summer, polar bears were 10 kilograms lighter when they came to shore.

• There is evidence that global warming has also extended the range of the grizzly bear, the polar bear's fearsome southern cousin. "It seems as if a lot of animals are moving east toward Hudson Bay because of global warming," Nunavut government wildlife officer Joe Niego told Canadian Geographic in 2003. "In recent years, we've seen marten, which are never found this far east, a few river otters and a lot more grizzly bears than usual."

• When their habitat overlaps, polar bears and grizzlies can apparently coexist. In 2006 DNA evidence proved that a bear shot that April in the Northwest Territories was a hybrid of the two. "I don't think anyone expected it to actually happen in the wild," said Ian Stirling of the Canadian Wildlife Service. The hybrid, which has no official name, was nicknamed a pizzly or a grolar bear.

• In 2009 Canada and the other four nations with polar bear populations - the United States, Norway, Denmark and Russia - declared climate change the single greatest threat to polar bears.





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