International Polar Bear Day

February 27 has been designated as the annual International Polar Bear Day by the conservation organization, Polar Bears International.  The day has been celebrated annually since 2012.  The annual event seeks to educate the general public about the plight of polar bears globally and to encourage individuals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by turning down their heat and turning up their air conditioners.  Polar Bears International lists its mission as seeking to “conserve polar bears and the sea ice they depend on.”

Polar bear on an ice flow in Ukkusiksalik National Park, Nunavut, Canada (photo by Ansgar Walk)

The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is superbly adapted to living in the frigid conditions of the Arctic ecosystem.  It is a marine species by definition (hence its scientific name), living on floating sea ice as its preferred habitat.  Its main food is the ringed seal, which also lives on and around sea ice and is a fat-rich dietary source needed by bears.  Polar bears are evolved from a common ancestor with the brown bear (grizzly bear).  They grow to 9 feet in length and 1400 pounds in weight.  During summer when sea ice disappears, polar bears must retreat to land.  Food is insufficient for the bears, and they lose weight during the time they must spend off the ice.

Consequently, global warming is a primary threat to the survival of polar bears.  Arctic sea ice has been disappearing rapidly, with the area of ice decreasing every summer and the length of time ice habitat is available to bears also decreasing.  Each year, bears are spending longer on land, losing more weight, emerging in the fall in worse condition, and having smaller cubs that have higher post-natal mortality.  Photographs of emaciated polar bears, trapped on tiny ice floes, are heart-rending reminders of their plight.

For these reasons, polar bears are receiving higher levels of protection around the world.  The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has declared the species “vulnerable” to extinction.  IUCN estimates that together the 19 distinct populations of polar bears around the Arctic region number about 22,000-31,000 individuals.  However, detailed knowledge of their abundance is scarce, as the animals live in remote areas that are largely inaccessible to humans.  The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a treaty to which the U.S. is party, regulates global trade in the species, but still allows some harvest.

In the United States, the polar bear is listed as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act.  It is also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which in general prohibits hunting and other forms of exploitation of polar bears.  However, Native Americans in the Arctic region can harvest polar bears for subsistence uses and native handicrafts.

References:

CITES.  CITES and Polar Bear.  Available at:  https://cites.org/eng/news/sg/2013/20131203_polar-bear.php. Accessed February 26, 2017.

Polar Bears International.  The Life, Land, and Future of the Polar Bear.  Available at:  http://polarbearsinternational.org/. Accessed February 26, 2017.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  2013.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Announces Final Polar Bear Special Rule.  Available at:  https://www.fws.gov/alaska/external/newsroom/pdf/13-04.pdf?SiteName=FWS&Entity=PRAsset&SF_PRAsset_PRAssetID_EQ=131878&XSL=PressRelease&Cache=True. Accessed February 26, 2017.

World Widlife Fund.  Polar bear status, distribution & population.  Available at:  http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/arctic/wildlife/polar_bear/population/.  Accessed February 26, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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