A Journey into the Coronary heart of Polar Bear Nation and the Urgency of Local weather Change

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By Rachael Axelrod (WWF’s Senior Program Officer for Local weather, Communities, and Wildlife) and Elisabeth Kruger (WWF’s Supervisor for Arctic Wildlife Conservation)

A group photo of polar bear Nat Hab group

© Nikki Sentinella / Nat Hab

Earlier than flying into Churchill, our Pure Habitat Adventures group was instructed our possibilities of seeing a polar bear had been promising, however nothing could possibly be assured – that is nature in spite of everything. In mid-November, we had been touring on the tail-end of polar bear season, the month between mid-October and mid-November when the polar bears of Nunavut and Manitoba roam the Hudson Bay shoreline ready for sea ice to kind. Present up in Churchill too late, and also you run the danger of lacking the bears as they enterprise deep onto the frozen Bay searching seals.

Fifteen minutes into our first day, we rapidly found we had not missed the bears. We collectively gasped after our driver identified a bear off within the distance, slowly trudging throughout a frozen pond. That first bear was one in every of practically thirty we witnessed that day. Between a pair of sparring females, a number of household teams of mothers with cubs, and numerous bears lounging within the solar – sightings had been considerable.

A polar bear and their cub walking

© Nikki Sentinella / Nat Hab

We had been elated and conflicted. This journey to Churchill was a once-in-a-lifetime alternative to witness polar bears of their pure habitat – an expertise many won’t ever have. However the sight of so many bears roaming across the shoreline of the Bay additionally meant one thing else – the ocean ice had not but fashioned. As visitors on Pure Habitat Journey’s local weather departure, we knew this was trigger for concern.

Close up photo of a polar bear in Churchill

© Nikki Sentinella / Nat Hab

Polar Bears are constructed for feasts and famine. Polar bears are very environment friendly digesters of seal blubber, changing as much as 97.4% of the seal blubber consumed and storing no matter vitality isn’t wanted for the time being as fats reserves to make use of when seals are scarce. [1] When polar bears have entry to a secure platform of sea ice, they hunt as many seals as they’ll, packing on the kilos that can tide them over in the course of the summer season ice-free interval.

Sea ice is a posh and dynamic habitat however, as our world warms, it’ll proceed to kind later and soften sooner – shrinking the polar bear searching season and forcing them to quick for longer and longer intervals. Polar bears can solely eat so many seals in the course of the time they’ve entry to sea ice. Warming brought on by local weather change is now testing how lengthy polar bears can go with out seals as ice-free summers of their habitat proceed to elongate. Seeing so many bears on shore on the tail finish of the season was a tangible reminder of the very actual and present impacts of local weather change.

Two polar bears biting eachother

© Nikki Sentinella / Nat Hab

What drove this level house was the chance to delve into the intricate ecosystem that sustains the polar bear inhabitants. Nat Hab’s knowledgeable information, Nikki Sentinella, offered invaluable insights into the fragile steadiness of the Arctic, explaining how every element, from the smallest microorganisms to the most important marine mammals, performs an important function in supporting the polar bear’s lifestyle. Likewise, different Arctic species profit from the bears. We watched as ravens and foxes trailed intently behind polar bears, able to feed off their leftovers. Studying concerning the interdependence of species on this excessive atmosphere underscored the fragility of ecosystems within the face of fast world warming.

Arctic fox with snowy tundra background

© Nikki Sentinella / Nat Hab

This was a profound expertise for me, as I usually work on local weather change points from a desk in Washington DC a lot of the yr. As my colleague, Elisabeth, stated a number of instances throughout our journey “it’s one factor to know one thing intellectually, and a complete different factor to see it and really feel it.” This encapsulated my expertise. When talking and writing about local weather change, it’s simple to really feel misplaced within the scale of the issue. However being confronted with an arctic ecosystem that’s not adapting rapidly sufficient to our quickly altering local weather felt tangible in a means I hadn’t skilled prior.

For Elisabeth, who works on Arctic and polar bear points day-after-day from WWF’s workplace in Alaska, this journey represented a possibility to soundly observe polar bears being polar bears of their pure habitat. Usually, when she sees polar bears in the middle of her work, her first response is to verify she is protected, which can contain deterring the bear away from folks. It’s an actual deal with to have the ability to watch the bears do their factor, with out concern.

A polar bear looking up with snow and water in the background

© Nikki Sentinella / Nat Hab

As representatives of WWF, we had the privilege of participating in lots of conversations with our fellow vacationers. These discussions emphasised the significance of collaborative efforts in mitigating and adapting to local weather change. With the background of the frozen tundra behind us, these talks felt each participating and pressing. The engagement and curiosity of our group was inspiring, and we left Churchill with a renewed sense of objective. We are able to’t thank WWF, Pure Habitat Adventures, the city of Churchill, our fellow vacationers, and naturally, the polar bears, sufficient for offering such a novel and memorable expertise.

Group of four people on polar bear trip

© Nikki Sentinella / Nat Hab

[1] Greatest, Robin. (2011). Digestibility of ringed seals by the polar bear. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 63. 1033-1036. 10.1139/z85-155.

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