Meet Our Partners: Polar Bears International
You know about the White Limited Edition Polar Bear Bracelet, but do you know about the organizations behind it? In addition to our team at 4Ocean still removing 1 pound of trash from the ocean for every bracelet purchased, we have also partnered with two amazing organizations who are helping Polar Bears. We were able to ask Alysa McCall, Director of Conservation Outreach and Staff Scientist at Polar Bears International some questions that were on our mind!
1. When was Polar Bears International founded and where?
Our organization was born out of a group of photographers who travelled to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada each fall in the 1980s to take pictures of the iconic polar bear. Over time, this group realized that they were seeing negative changes in the bears and wanted to help. Photographer Dan Guravich
started “Polar Bears Alive” in 1992 to spread the word about polar bear conservation. Ten years later, we were renamed Polar Bears International and became even more committed to polar bear research and education. By 2018 we have become a world leader in polar bear conservation efforts, supporting research across the world and speaking to millions of people every year about this incredible animal.
2. What is your favorite part about being a scientist for Polar Bears International?
I love being able to add new things to what we know about polar bears. By better understanding this animal we can better support conservation efforts. Also, it is immensely gratifying to help people feel genuinely empowered to help protect polar bears and their sea ice habitat.
3. What is your best memory working with polar bears?
Some of my favorite memories are during the annual fall polar bear migration in Churchill, Manitoba. This is when we go out in Tundra BuggiesÆ to view the bears up close and watch their natural behaviors (and stream this all online!). We have been able to see incredible activities this way, like nursing, sparring (play fighting), and foraging.
One of my favorite memories was a few years ago when we had an up-close view of a unique interaction. A wolverine, from out of nowhere, ran across the tundra and right up to a napping polar bear. The wolverine woke the bear and appeared to challenge the much larger animal who, in turn, looked perplexed at the unprovoked aggression. The animals had a short tundra stare-down before the wolverine took off in another direction. It was a slightly bizarre situation; I think the bear might have been as confused about the wolverine’s intentions as we were. I’ve never seen a wolverine since!
4. How has climate change impacted the polar bears based on scientific data?
As we burn fossil fuels we are releasing heat-trapping emissions into the atmosphere. Over time, emissions have trapped too much heat, warming the planet too quickly. When temperatures rise, ice melts. This is a problem for polar bears because they depend on Arctic sea ice as a platform to hunt their main prey, seals.
Climate change has already led to major declines in sea ice in some regions of the polar bear’s range. Losing sea ice means polar bears have reduced access to calories, and now need to move more to find and consume the same amount of energy. Over time, fewer calories leads to bears getting smaller, reproducing less, and populations shrinking. Long-term monitoring studies have shown that declines in the Southern Beaufort Sea and Western Hudson Bay populations are linked to the loss of sea ice cover.
5. What is an interesting fact that not many people know about polar bears?
I think most people don’t realize just how much polar bears depend on fat as a food source. Compared to their brown bear cousins, polar bears have genetic differences that allow them to digest and assimilate fat much more effectively than they do carbohydrates or protein. Polar bears require over 12,000 calories a day, so land-based foods like eggs and meat just aren’t enough to maintain healthy populations. These bears need to eat blubber to survive, and therefore wholly rely on a marine environment.
Even polar bear milk is over 30% fat when cubs are born- that’s like drinking whipping cream! This is how cubs can be born at about 1 lb and grow to around 15-20 lbs in just a few months. Imagine a human baby gaining 15 times its weight in the same period!
6. What is your greatest project or achievement with polar bear research?
I am so proud of PBI’s work that is working to mitigate the growing number of human-bear conflict issues. As the Arctic is losing sea ice, polar bears are spending increasingly more time on shore. Many communities have existed along these same coastlines for generations and are now dealing with a rising number of unwanted, and potentially dangerous, bear interactions.
With support from partners and frontline operators, we are testing new equipment to detect and deter polar bears, supporting the training of polar bear guards, and supplying effective bear safety tools to those who need them. Together, we can work to keep both people and polar bears safe in a changing Arctic.
7. What advice would you give someone who wants to make a difference for the polar bears?
Look for ways to get involved in your community and ask your friends and families to join you. Any initiatives that help reduce fossil fuel consumption and support the switch to cleaner fuels (e.g., solar, wind) can help polar bears. Whether by voting for leaders who care, supporting businesses with good environmental practices, shopping at farmer’s markets, or supporting public transport networks, the biggest impacts will come from solutions we work on together. The very cool thing about polar bears is that anyone can help them, and every action we take for them is good for our own health and environment, too!
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