11/17/2010 1:58:23 PM

A Lean Polar Bear

This is my first time on Tundra Buggy. We arrived last night, it was dark, and because it has been warmer than usual the road was rough. The buggy had to go through puddles of icy water and climb icy ridges. We saw two bears on the way, but it was so dark that it was only a brief peak at moving silhouettes. But I had a feeling that today would be a bear-filled day. When I went to bed I could see through the tiny window in my bunk bed tracks of bears in the snow.

Two bears greet each other

As the landscape lit up during breakfast, two males sparring appeared next to the kitchen buggy. It was amazing to see these large creatures get up on their hind legs and wrestle one another. It is clear from watching these bears that they are powerful animals and that they would easily win a fight against a man. It is easy to forget that, even tough polar bears would win (paws down) against us, they are much more vulnerable to us than most of us are to them.

Two bears sparring

Big parts of the webcasts we've recorded today were focused on how vulnerable the bears are to human-induced climate change and how they depend on sea ice. The bears are only on land when the ice melts. They are waiting for the ice to freeze to be able to go back on the ice to catch seals. Although some of them look content and in good shape, we saw one bear that was really lean. Unlike the males play-fighting this morning, this male spent most of the time laying-down. Was he conserving the last of his fat reserved hoping that the ice would freeze up soon?

Bear laying down

For bears like him a delay of just a few days in ice breakup and freeze-up can make the difference between being here next year or not. It also makes a difference on whether he will be able to impress the females next mating season and thus whether he'll be able to produce offspring. For females, being lean also means that they might not survive another year. But in addition it might affect how many or whether they'll be able to have cubs next year.

Although it finally started to snow and the temperatures are cooling down, the ice freeze-up is behind schedule. The ice has been melting earlier and has been freezing later, leaving the bears waiting longer and longer on land with barely anything to eat. This memory of this lean bear is something that is going to stay with me when I leave. It will motivate me to work harder to reduce my carbon footprint and to focus a big part of my research on the impacts climate change will have on the polar bears.

Photo Credits: ©Frances Graham.

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