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Polar Bears are the New Beaver

November 17, 2011

Eva Gusnowski

The polar bear is a Canadian icon. The tourism industry would take quite a blow if the polar bear population disappeared, but that’s not the only reason we have nationally started to take notice of our northern friends.
 
Environment Canada’s assessment of the polar bear status has been in the news recently: sadly, it is kind of grim. There are only an estimated 20 000 to 25 000 polar bears in the world, and about 2/3 of the global population exists in Canada, while the rest are found in Alaska, Greenland and Russia. 
 
science in seconds, polar bear, eva gusnowski
 
 
Simply put, the polar bear niche (the role that it fulfills in the ecosystem) requires ice. Polar bears follow a seasonal habitat pattern, moving inland during the summer to survive on fat stores. During the winter the bears move out onto sea ice that provides them with access to a food source (mostly seals). The quality and quantity of sea ice therefore directly determines the winter habitat of the polar bear.
 
It’s therefore of no surprise that global warming is having an effect on the polar bear’s by decreasing the extent of sea ice. Additionally, the low reproductive rate of these bears plus overhunting that has occurred are potential threats to this species.
 
So what are we going to do about it?
 
science in seconds, eva gusnowski, polar bears are the new beaver
 
Last year the US declared a polar bear conservation effort in Alaska to prevent the impact of development on the polar bear habitat. And just recently, the Canadian government declared the polar bear as a “species of special concern”, meaning it is now protected under the Species at Risk Act. This requires the implementation of a government protection plan of sorts over the next three years to prevent the polar bear from becoming threatened or endangered, which are the next two rungs on the ladder to extinction.
 
Hopefully with this new declaration we can prevent the decline in the polar bear population. It has even been suggested that Canada’s national animal be changed to the polar bear from the beaver, which at one time was also a species in danger of extinction (beaver hat, anyone?). So if green can be the new black, it seems possible that the polar bear could eventually become the new beaver.
 
science in seconds, eva gusnowski, polar bears are the new beaver
 
So are the polar bears walking on (globally warmed) thin ice? Maybe its just the newly designed Coke cans that have everyone in such a frenzy. Seriously Coca-Cola, 2 million dollars over 5 years? I think you can do a little better than that to help out the non-secular animal you’ve been exploiting every Christmas. Oh, that’s right…I’m sure that changing the color of Coke cans should have the same impact as donating the equivalent amount of money to the polar bears instead. Good call.

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