The Northwest Passage north of the Americas, was sought for centuries and became a sort of El Dorado, a legendary objective for explorers seeking glory. Roald Amundsen, the man who led the first expedition to the South Pole, made the first complete North West Passage in an expedition from to Still until , ice made the passage impractical for normal, year round marine shipping. The decline of sea ice has created new possibilities for shipping and international trade.
Polar bears hunt on the same pack ice that kept the Northwest passage closed to normal shipping for so long.
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Polar bears depend almost entirely on seals for their diet. Bears wait patiently for long periods of time near holes called aglu in sea ice that seals use to get air.
A bear may drift toward a seal like an innocuous piece of ice; when it reaches the floe edge it explodes from the water and smacks the seal dead all in one motion. When it stalks seals over the ice, it flattens itself on its forequarters and slides along slowly on chest and forelegs, taking advantage of every piece of cover. It will scrape away the sea ice at a breathing hole until there is just a thin layer left, and then cover the ice with its body to cut off sunlight, so it looks to the seal below as if the thick crust of ice and snow is still present.
It will build a snow wall to hide behind while it waits at an aglu. Inexperienced bears waste a lot of energy and bears have been known to regularly fast for up to eight months. The fasting period is possible because of a seasonal extreme in food abundance.
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Derocher told me that for a bear, one seal is the caloric equivalent of 1, big mac meals. The number seems incredible but I did the math myself and it checks out. Seals, like many marine mammals, especially those in cold climates are very fatty. The huge amount of calories from seal kills allow polar bears to survive seasons without pack ice to hunt on. Many pollutants bond to fat.
Because polar bears are very large animals, pollutants in the fat of smaller animals that are in turn eaten by bigger animals and then seals and finally the bears become concentrated. This means that the bears end up with a concentration of pollutants compared to say fish that seals eat.
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Some of these pollutants are pesticides from agriculture that travel long distances to reach the Arctic. The fats that keep seals, polar bears and other marine mammals alive are also collecting toxins that hurt them. In the end, it all comes down to the Arctic. The cold is a defining characteristic of our pole and has partially set the niches of polar bears, seals, narwhals and anything else that lives in the far north. This is why an animal like the polar bear is important to those concerned about climate change.
Derocher said that scientists expect polar bears to live until the end of the century, he also tells me that as far as he can tell, the Arctic could get along without polar bears. As a scientist, Dr.
In an area with tigers, crocodiles or polar bears, we walk more softly, we feel our own humanity more acutely. In my view, polar bears are part of the Arctic. By Zach Fitzner , Earth. Climate change is the main threat facing polar bears.
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But we also know the effects are being seen around the world. Now is the time we must speak up and demand global action. We need to change course if we want to stop further habitat loss and ensure resilient wildlife populations, both in the Arctic and around the world. Pledge to work together to solve the world's greatest environmental problems, including threats like climate change.
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