Tag Archives: polar bears

Bears pay price of Arctic ice melt

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE The Arctic lost less sea ice this year than last, and that is good news for many polar bears, if not for their preferred prey, the ringed seals. LONDON, 7 November – Churchill, Manitoba is about to lose its star performers, but paradoxically nobody will be sorry to see them go. And, even more paradoxically, the whole world can now watch them, courtesy of a set of web cameras set up by the media organisation Explore [Live cam footage courtesy of explore.org, Polar Bears International and Frontiers North Adventures]. The story is a simple one: somewhere between 900 and 1,000 polar bears make up the Western Hudson Bay population of Ursus maritimus, the Arctic’s top terrestrial predator, and many of them will have not eaten properly for eight months. Polar bears will if there is no choice forage for goose eggs, berries, carrion and town rubbish, which is why so many gather near Churchill, Manitoba while waiting for the seas to freeze. The polar bear is adapted to the Arctic ice as perfectly as the African lion is at home on the savannah. But as the Arctic summers lengthen, and the ice dwindles, the southernmost polar bear population is under threat. Only as Hudson Bay ices over will the Churchill bears be able to hunt their favoured prey, the ringed seal, Phoca hispida, an energy source so rich that – when the hunting is good – polar bears will eat only the blubber, and leave the rest for other Arctic carnivores and scavengers. The polar bear needs at least two kilograms of seal blubber a day; a hungry polar bear has enough room in its stomach for up to a fifth of its bodyweight. A kilo of seal blubber could deliver up to 5,000 kilocalories which means a 500 kg bear could in theory gorge on up to 500,000 kilocalories a day, in a voracious bid to build up enough fat to see it through the next cycle of spring births and summer fasting. But to gorge, the bears must get to the ice. During the summer of 2012, Arctic ice contracted to its lowest ever recorded level. If the pattern of summer ice loss continues, the bears could be in trouble.

Fewer cubs survive

Pregnant female bears generally enter their dens in November or December and then emerge with their cubs in April or May, having eaten nothing for four or five months, only to be forced off the ice in July. “So by the time they head out to the ice again, they’ve been without food for up to eight months,” says Barbara Nielsen of Polar Bears International, which declared Polar Bear Week, beginning on 4 November. “The longer ice free periods are really hard on mothers with cubs and scientists are seeing a drop in cub survival rates as a result.” Some of the population have been fitted with radio collars and tracked by satellite: the first tracked bear came ashore on 4 July of this year, a month earlier than was normal 30 years ago. Polar bears are powerful swimmers, and have been tracked swimming for huge distances; on land they can move at speed, but not for long, because they overheat. So their best hope of a full meal is on the ice, used by ringed seals as a nursery every spring. Although summer ice loss in 2013 was much less dramatic than in 2012, Arctic ice has been retreating at an accelerating rate for the last 30 years.  Conservationists and zoologists have repeatedly warned that the polar bear population of Hudson Bay is at risk. So the people of Churchill will be happy to see them go, because the sooner they go, the more likely it is that many of them will be back. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE The Arctic lost less sea ice this year than last, and that is good news for many polar bears, if not for their preferred prey, the ringed seals. LONDON, 7 November – Churchill, Manitoba is about to lose its star performers, but paradoxically nobody will be sorry to see them go. And, even more paradoxically, the whole world can now watch them, courtesy of a set of web cameras set up by the media organisation Explore [Live cam footage courtesy of explore.org, Polar Bears International and Frontiers North Adventures]. The story is a simple one: somewhere between 900 and 1,000 polar bears make up the Western Hudson Bay population of Ursus maritimus, the Arctic’s top terrestrial predator, and many of them will have not eaten properly for eight months. Polar bears will if there is no choice forage for goose eggs, berries, carrion and town rubbish, which is why so many gather near Churchill, Manitoba while waiting for the seas to freeze. The polar bear is adapted to the Arctic ice as perfectly as the African lion is at home on the savannah. But as the Arctic summers lengthen, and the ice dwindles, the southernmost polar bear population is under threat. Only as Hudson Bay ices over will the Churchill bears be able to hunt their favoured prey, the ringed seal, Phoca hispida, an energy source so rich that – when the hunting is good – polar bears will eat only the blubber, and leave the rest for other Arctic carnivores and scavengers. The polar bear needs at least two kilograms of seal blubber a day; a hungry polar bear has enough room in its stomach for up to a fifth of its bodyweight. A kilo of seal blubber could deliver up to 5,000 kilocalories which means a 500 kg bear could in theory gorge on up to 500,000 kilocalories a day, in a voracious bid to build up enough fat to see it through the next cycle of spring births and summer fasting. But to gorge, the bears must get to the ice. During the summer of 2012, Arctic ice contracted to its lowest ever recorded level. If the pattern of summer ice loss continues, the bears could be in trouble.

Fewer cubs survive

Pregnant female bears generally enter their dens in November or December and then emerge with their cubs in April or May, having eaten nothing for four or five months, only to be forced off the ice in July. “So by the time they head out to the ice again, they’ve been without food for up to eight months,” says Barbara Nielsen of Polar Bears International, which declared Polar Bear Week, beginning on 4 November. “The longer ice free periods are really hard on mothers with cubs and scientists are seeing a drop in cub survival rates as a result.” Some of the population have been fitted with radio collars and tracked by satellite: the first tracked bear came ashore on 4 July of this year, a month earlier than was normal 30 years ago. Polar bears are powerful swimmers, and have been tracked swimming for huge distances; on land they can move at speed, but not for long, because they overheat. So their best hope of a full meal is on the ice, used by ringed seals as a nursery every spring. Although summer ice loss in 2013 was much less dramatic than in 2012, Arctic ice has been retreating at an accelerating rate for the last 30 years.  Conservationists and zoologists have repeatedly warned that the polar bear population of Hudson Bay is at risk. So the people of Churchill will be happy to see them go, because the sooner they go, the more likely it is that many of them will be back. – Climate News Network

As Arctic ice melts diseases spread

EMBARGOED until 2301 on Friday 7 June There’s strong evidence that with rising temperatures and reductions in ice cover, the Arctic is seeing a spike in the rate of various diseases.  LONDON, 7 June – A cow grazing on the lush pasturelands of Cornwall in southwest England and a seal swimming in the ice cold waters of the Arctic might not appear to have much in common. The link between the two is tuberculosis, with a strain of the disease threatening cattle populations in Britain and elsewhere now showing up among  seals in the high Arctic. Dr Claire Heffernan, a trained vet and a specialist in global health and disease interaction between animals and humans, says that as the climate warms in Arctic regions, more and more diseases from Europe and elsewhere are spreading there, threatening both animal and human populations. “In the past diseases might not have survived in the cold temperatures and the ice of the Arctic but as the region warms a new dynamic is introduced” Heffernan told Climate News Network. “We need to fundamentally alter the way we look at disease in the context of climate change. We should recognise disease as a harbinger of a warming world.” Dr Heffernan, a senior fellow at the Smith School for Enterprise and the Environment in Oxford and director of the livestock development group at the University of Reading says a wide variety of diseases have recently become evident among Arctic animal populations. Toxoplasma, a parasite common in European cat populations, is now being found in polar bears in Greenland. Erysipelas, a disease of domestic pigs, is being found in Musk Oxen in the Canadian Arctic: the animals have also been found to have contracted Giardiasis, an intestinal parasite of humans. Meanwhile West Nile virus has been found in wolf pups in the Canadian Arctic. Transmission Such diseases could have been transmitted in a variety of ways, says Heffernan. The spread of Toxoplasma, for example, might be the result of people flushing cat faeces down toilets in the US and Europe which are then carried by tides to the Arctic. More people are visiting the region. Tourists defecating in the wilds might be the cause of the spread of Erysipelas. “The Arctic is like a Heathrow airport in terms of bird, seal and other migration patterns so that’s another way disease is easily spread” says Heffernan.  “And the disease pathway is not all one way – they can also be transmitted from the Arctic to elsewhere in the world. “The point is no one is really joining up the dots between climate change and the spread of disease. There’s a whole new disease transmission cycle appearing in the Arctic which we just don’t understand.” Impact on humans Human disease levels in the Arctic are a continuing concern says Heffernan. Rates of TB among the Inuit of northern Canada are far higher than in the general population. Major economic change and development now taking place in the Arctic means previously nomadic people are moving to towns in search jobs. Ice melt is also forcing more into settlements. With people living in close proximity to each other, disease tends to spread faster. Infant mortality in the Arctic, much of it due to diseases curable elsewhere in the world, is considerably higher than elsewhere. “In 1930s there was a temperature spike in the Arctic which led to an outbreak of malaria” says Heffernan. “In subsequent years chloroquine was used to combat it. But what happens now, with temperatures rising and the prevalence of chloroquine resistant malaria?” Athrax alert Early in the last century there were periodic outbreaks of anthrax in the Russian Arctic, resulting in the deaths of thousands of deer and cattle. Some Russian scientists and officials have warned that burial sites of those anthrax infected animals are now being exposed. “As the Arctic melts, ancient pathogens can suddenly escape” says Heffernan. “No one knows for certain how many livestock burial sites there are in the Russian Arctic – I’ve seen estimates ranging from 400 to 13,000.” In recent years there have been several anthrax outbreaks affecting both cattle and people reported in the region, particularly among communities of the indigenous Yakut, who often live near to such burial sites. With Arctic temperatures rising at more than twice the rate of the rest of the world, Heffernan says there’s an urgent need to link disease and climate change and tackle health issues. But there are a number of problems preventing concerted action: the Arctic is governed by different states with different laws. There’s not even a common agreement among Arctic nation states on the region’s boundaries. There’s a dearth of trained medical staff and research across the region. When it comes to statistics, the Arctic is something of a black hole with health data subsumed into  more general country wide statistics. “There’s very little biosecurity work going on in the Arctic” says Heffernan. “Yet we have the means to control so many of these diseases. There must be urgent, concerted, joined up action.” – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED until 2301 on Friday 7 June There’s strong evidence that with rising temperatures and reductions in ice cover, the Arctic is seeing a spike in the rate of various diseases.  LONDON, 7 June – A cow grazing on the lush pasturelands of Cornwall in southwest England and a seal swimming in the ice cold waters of the Arctic might not appear to have much in common. The link between the two is tuberculosis, with a strain of the disease threatening cattle populations in Britain and elsewhere now showing up among  seals in the high Arctic. Dr Claire Heffernan, a trained vet and a specialist in global health and disease interaction between animals and humans, says that as the climate warms in Arctic regions, more and more diseases from Europe and elsewhere are spreading there, threatening both animal and human populations. “In the past diseases might not have survived in the cold temperatures and the ice of the Arctic but as the region warms a new dynamic is introduced” Heffernan told Climate News Network. “We need to fundamentally alter the way we look at disease in the context of climate change. We should recognise disease as a harbinger of a warming world.” Dr Heffernan, a senior fellow at the Smith School for Enterprise and the Environment in Oxford and director of the livestock development group at the University of Reading says a wide variety of diseases have recently become evident among Arctic animal populations. Toxoplasma, a parasite common in European cat populations, is now being found in polar bears in Greenland. Erysipelas, a disease of domestic pigs, is being found in Musk Oxen in the Canadian Arctic: the animals have also been found to have contracted Giardiasis, an intestinal parasite of humans. Meanwhile West Nile virus has been found in wolf pups in the Canadian Arctic. Transmission Such diseases could have been transmitted in a variety of ways, says Heffernan. The spread of Toxoplasma, for example, might be the result of people flushing cat faeces down toilets in the US and Europe which are then carried by tides to the Arctic. More people are visiting the region. Tourists defecating in the wilds might be the cause of the spread of Erysipelas. “The Arctic is like a Heathrow airport in terms of bird, seal and other migration patterns so that’s another way disease is easily spread” says Heffernan.  “And the disease pathway is not all one way – they can also be transmitted from the Arctic to elsewhere in the world. “The point is no one is really joining up the dots between climate change and the spread of disease. There’s a whole new disease transmission cycle appearing in the Arctic which we just don’t understand.” Impact on humans Human disease levels in the Arctic are a continuing concern says Heffernan. Rates of TB among the Inuit of northern Canada are far higher than in the general population. Major economic change and development now taking place in the Arctic means previously nomadic people are moving to towns in search jobs. Ice melt is also forcing more into settlements. With people living in close proximity to each other, disease tends to spread faster. Infant mortality in the Arctic, much of it due to diseases curable elsewhere in the world, is considerably higher than elsewhere. “In 1930s there was a temperature spike in the Arctic which led to an outbreak of malaria” says Heffernan. “In subsequent years chloroquine was used to combat it. But what happens now, with temperatures rising and the prevalence of chloroquine resistant malaria?” Athrax alert Early in the last century there were periodic outbreaks of anthrax in the Russian Arctic, resulting in the deaths of thousands of deer and cattle. Some Russian scientists and officials have warned that burial sites of those anthrax infected animals are now being exposed. “As the Arctic melts, ancient pathogens can suddenly escape” says Heffernan. “No one knows for certain how many livestock burial sites there are in the Russian Arctic – I’ve seen estimates ranging from 400 to 13,000.” In recent years there have been several anthrax outbreaks affecting both cattle and people reported in the region, particularly among communities of the indigenous Yakut, who often live near to such burial sites. With Arctic temperatures rising at more than twice the rate of the rest of the world, Heffernan says there’s an urgent need to link disease and climate change and tackle health issues. But there are a number of problems preventing concerted action: the Arctic is governed by different states with different laws. There’s not even a common agreement among Arctic nation states on the region’s boundaries. There’s a dearth of trained medical staff and research across the region. When it comes to statistics, the Arctic is something of a black hole with health data subsumed into  more general country wide statistics. “There’s very little biosecurity work going on in the Arctic” says Heffernan. “Yet we have the means to control so many of these diseases. There must be urgent, concerted, joined up action.” – Climate News Network