© Kt Miller/Polar Bears International

10/29/2013 8:31:45 PM

A Polar Bear Thanksgiving

Last week, I gathered around the table with my Churchill family—the crew that is the glue holding Polar Bears International's conservation efforts together up here in Churchill during the annual fall polar bear migration. It was Canadian Thanksgiving and, being the only Canadian, I made dinner and was given the chance to reflect on what I am thankful for. After thinking about it, the first thing that came to mind was my opportunity to be part of the PBI team this year.

By Cassandra Debets

I am conducting Polar Bears International's Citizen Science Project again, working with Frontiers North Adventures on the Tundra Buggies® with guests from all over the world. The Citizen Science Project was conceived by PBI's chief scientist, Dr. Steven Amstrup. Dr. Merav Ben-David (University of Wyoming) and Dr. Elizabeth Flaherty (Purdue University) help advise the project. Joining me this year are Jadelys Tonos from Purdue University and Jordan Winter from the University of Wyoming, both undergraduate students helping to conduct the study.

Our goal is to gather body size information on polar bears through photographs that guests on the Tundra Buggies® help collect. This data can help us track long-term changes in the bears that could be happening as the polar bears' sea ice habitat disappears from global climate change. With sea ice losses, polar bears have reduced access to their main prey, ringed seals, which they depend on to store the fat that they need to survive on during the ice-free season.

It is very rewarding to work with the Frontiers North Adventures guests as they share the same passion as I do for the polar bear and their fragile habitat. I have had a lot of fun watching people see their first polar bear, and watch their behaviors. Each day is so different from the next; the biodiversity that we see is incredible. We often see arctic hare, arctic fox, ptarmigan, gyrfalcons, and other small birds. All these species rely on a healthy arctic ecosystem, something they are all thankful for I am sure.

The weather has been chilly here. It is getting colder and there is a little bit more snow each day, something I am sure all the wildlife is thankful for. For the bears, I am sure they are anxious for the sea ice to return so they can feast soon, much like we did last week. However, they are no doubt hoping for something with lots of blubber on the menu. I wonder if polar bears say grace?

Special thanks to SeaWorld, the North Carolina Zoo, and Accolade Wines for supporting the study.

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