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Scientists Say Polar Bears Headed For Disaster Unless Canada & Other Arctic Countries Come Up With P
February 7, 2013
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In recent years, experts have been warning about the impact of climate change on polar bears and their way of life.

Well today, a dozen scientists - all of them from Arctic countries - took it up a notch and called for emergency planning.

They say the five countries with polar bear populations need to start making detailed plans to save the bears from extinction.

Those countries are Canada, Russia, Norway, Greenland and the United States (ie: Alaska).

The scientists say as the arctic sea ice disappears, many bears will have a much tougher time surviving.

Polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt seals. When the ice breaks up in the spring and summer, the bears head to land and don't eat until the ice freezes again in the fall.


Trouble is, the sea ice is melting faster than anyone thought, so the scientists are urging countries to get moving now on an action plan.

Andrew Derocher a polar biologist at the University of Alberta is one of the scientists.

He told The Guardian, "We still manage polar bears in Canada like nothing has changed. Other countries are moving on some aspects of future polar bear management, but it is glacial compared to the actual changes we're seeing in sea ice and the bears themselves."

Right now, there are 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the world. The scientists say an unusually early melt could leave many bears in trouble.

"The sooner we consider the options, the sooner we'll have a plan," said Derocher. "The worst-case scenario is a catastrophically early sea ice break-up with hundreds of starving bears, followed by inappropriate management actions."

So, how bad could things get?

Well, the scientists lay out a number of possibilities. Among them...

Many polar bears will have to spend more time fasting on land, and could wander into northern communities to find food.

If the ice disappears for long periods of time, some polar bears will have to be fed by people to keep them alive.

Some bears may have to be kept in temporary enclosures until it's cold enough for them to go back onto the sea ice.

Some bears might have to be moved from southern regions such as Hudson Bay to areas in the high arctic where there's more ice.

In a worst-case scenario, some bears will end up in zoos to keep the species alive, so that when the ice returns, experts can look to repopulate the wild.

As a last resort, some starving bears may have to be euthanized.


"The modeling work we've done indicates that we are going to see these critical events in the next decades," Derocher told NBC News.

"Given the amount of inertia in the climate system, it is very clear that we are going to lose polar bear populations," he added.

Already, scientists are seeing troubling signs.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Polar Bear Specialist Group recently found that only one of the 19 polar bear subpopulations is increasing.

Three are stable while eight are declining. As for the other seven, they don't have enough to data yet.

Steve Amstrup is the chief scientist for Polar Bears International and one of the experts sounding the alarm.

Several years ago, he led a U.S. government-appointed panel that said two-thirds of the world's polar bears could disappear by 2050.

"We really never have been here before," said Amstrup.

scientists-say-polar-bears-headed-for-disaster-unless-Canada-and-other-Arctic-countries-come-up-with-plans-to-save-them-feature4.jpg The question is: what can governments do? Over the past five years or so, the scientists have been working on a number of ideas.

One is supplemental feeding. The idea is to fly-in loads of seal meat by helicopter to feed hungry bears who've been forced onto land by a lack of ice.

Wildlife officials would have to kill thousands of seals every summer, as hungry polar bears eat up to five seals a week.

The scientists say all of this would be difficult logistically and expensive.

"There is not a lot of experience with any of these issues, so it would take coordination and learning from the east Europeans, who already feed brown bears," said Derocher.

Another idea is diversionary feeding - to keep hungry polar bears from wandering into towns and villages.

None of this is ideal, the scientists say. And even the best plans won't mean much, if we don't cut greenhouse gas emissions.


"The problem for polar bears is that we might be talking hundreds or thousands of years before sea ice actually comes back in the full context of what we have today," Derocher said.

"I don't view the options we lay out as a way of not dealing with greenhouse gases," he said.

"Because without action on that front, there's little that could be done in the longer term to save the species."

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