Polar Bears International

Alysa McCall, right, shares questions from the public with BJ Kirschhoffer during a live chat from the tundra.

© Polar Bears International

1/9/2017 3:44:12 AM

Polar Bear Season Highlights

By Alysa McCall, Staff Scientist and Director of Conservation Outreach 

December is a time for reflection at Polar Bears International. We can finally start to slow down, take a breath, and process the past polar bear season and our outreach to people around the world.

This year’s warm weather and lack of ice and snow brought home the impacts of climate change to a global audience. Conditions in a single year are complex, but the unusual warmth and late freeze-up fits the pattern that scientists have long predicted, based on decades of data—and we can expect to see more years like this unless we pull together and take action to reduce emissions.

Roving Studio

Our outreach from the well-known polar bear gathering place in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, begins each year in October and November. As we roam in a Tundra Buggy, we live-stream polar bear action through our Polar Bear Cam in partnership with explore.org. And as we roam, we talk! Along with our own staff, PBI brings up experts in different fields to share their expertise and answer your questions about polar bears, sea ice, climate, and anything else you might want to know.

Some of our educational pieces happen through our Tundra Connections webcasts, where we talk to a panel of specialists and mix in graphics and video clips. All can be found on our YouTube channel and most are tied to curriculum on our website and iTunes U channel. One of my favorites this year was our Arctic ABCs webcast, aimed at young children and designed to help them learn some new northern words and gain interest in one of the most vulnerable places on Earth.

Some other educational programming happens through live chats via the Polar Bear Cam. For these, we casually interview guests and take questions from the audience throughout the broadcast.

Facebook Live

A great addition to the live cams this year was the ability to push the live stream directly to PBI’s and explore.org’s Facebook pages. We can now host impromptu Facebook Live chats as soon as something especially interesting happens, and we can reach thousands of people who are on Facebook but might not know about the Polar Bear Cams. Another especially exciting feature this year was our ability to plug in a microphone on Buggy One and talk on top of the cam action: people could listen to information without having to take their eyes off polar bears!

Being able to immediately talk to people about what was happening on the cam and take questions right away allowed a higher level of engagement than ever before. We are constantly amazed by the huge interest in what we’re doing on the tundra and find it an invaluable way to connect with a broad cross-section of people and share insights.

Our most poignant Facebook Live broadcast took place on November 4th when we witnessed a cannibalism event of an adult polar bear male eating a cub. We did not see the predation event, but we did watch and stream some of the aftermath. We pulled up Buggy One to the scene and almost immediately plugged in to explain what was happening. These are the instances where it is imperative to give people information and build context around the situation, otherwise speculation can run rampant. We were fortunate to have Dr. Andrew Derocher, one of the world’s leading polar bear scientists, on board with us to help answer questions and provide more insight into this (so far relatively rare) bear-on-bear event. 

It’s an incredible feat of technology to be able to bring both video and knowledge of these events from the middle of the tundra into homes around the world. As this habitat continues to change, it will only become more important to continue to document what’s going on and provide information and answers to questions that the public has. Most important, these cams and outreach activities can help us get even more people interested in protecting the future of these bears and other animals that call the Arctic home.

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