February 27th is International Polar Bear Day. The event is organized by Polar Bears International to raise awareness about the effects of warmer temperatures and reduced sea ice on the global polar bear population. The focus is on the personal steps we can take to reduce our CO2 emissions, including lowering the heat in our homes and avoiding idling our cars.
The specific theme of this year's Day is "Bundle Up For Polar Bears": Polar Bears International is asking everyone to turn down their thermostats by two degrees today in order to reduce our climate impact.
And scientists say that climate change is having a severe effect on polar bears. The population of bears in Western Hudson Bay has declined from 1,200 in 1987 to roughly 900 today. According to Andrew Derocher, a polar bear biologist with the University of Alberta, the last polar bear in the western Hudson Bay area "will die sometime within the next few decades".
Part of the problem is that declining climate conditions have caused polar bears to lose body weight, with negative consequences for their offspring. Ian Stirling, one of the world's leading polar bear experts, says that between 1980 and 2007, pregnant females had lost an average of more than 110 pounds in body mass, leading to smaller litters and reduced cub survival.
Not everyone agrees that polar bear populations are declining, however. Nunavut's environment minister said in a news release last year that "we have seen a remarkable recovery of our polar bear populations since their historic lows in the 1970s", and some residents have reported seeing more bears in recent years. Scientists say this increase in bear sightings is due to the delay of ice formation in Hudson Bay, which causes hungry bears to remain on shore in search of food.
For a unique view of a young polar bear, you can visit a streaming webcam run by Polar bears International, the Scandinavian Wildlife Park and The Annenberg Foundation's explore.com. It focuses on Siku, a 3-month-old polar bear cub who lives in a Danish wildlife park. The camera streams live footage between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. EST, when Siku is roaming outside in the nearly 280,000 square foot park. You can see that feed right here. (Link 1)
Last season, George visited Churchill recently to see the polar bears first hand and talk to the experts about what's happening to their habitat. Watch that special below:
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