Publication Date November 17, 2016

Plight of the Polar Bear: "The Entire Ecosystem Is Failing in Front of Our Eyes"

Canada
Photo: Getty Images

[Global warming] impacts are not an option for the northern Canadian town of Churchill, Manitoba. In this small town, attacks from hungry polar bears are a constant threat to humans that are only getting worse as the ice continues to melt.

Every October and November the bears descend on Churchill, a town of 800, on the animal's traditional migratory route, as they wait for the sea ice to freeze so they can hunt for seals. But as the climate warms, and the ice takes longer to form, the animals wander to human-filled towns, like Churchill, hungry.

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[Interview with Donald Moore, director of the Oregon Zoo, an endangered species specialist.]

The Churchill population, which is the Western Hudson Bay population, is down by nearly 20 percent. The sea ice is melting, and this summer was the largest melt in the area that we know of. As the temperature of the world goes up, the arctic just keeps melting.

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It looks like we have a 20 to 25 percent decline in the last 10 to 15 years. There are also big declines in the seal population. The entire ecosystem is failing in front of our eyes. By the way, 15 years ago, we were still worried about poaching of polar bears and how that would affect their population, and then we started to watch this habitat melt in front of our eyes in a period of years. Even as the rest of the world said don’t worry, there is no climate change, we were watching the arctic ice melt and melt. It has been there for thousands of years, and it is melting in our lifetimes. That is how I and a lot of other scientists became concerned about climate change.