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Nine Polar Bears Make Risky, Open-Ocean Swims In One Day

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Author Topic: Nine Polar Bears Make Risky, Open-Ocean Swims In One Day  (Read 34 times)
Caitlin Cone-Hoskins
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Posts: 3653

« on: August 25, 2008, 03:17:52 pm »

Nine Polar Bears Make Risky, Open-Ocean Swims In One Day
AP   |  Dan Joling   |   August 22, 2008 07:20 PM

Nine polar bears were observed in one day swimming in open ocean off Alaska's northwest coast, an increase from previous surveys that may indicate warming conditions are forcing bears to make riskier, long-distance swims to stable sea ice or land.

The bears were spotted in the Chukchi Sea on a flight by a federal marine contractor, Science Applications International Corp.

It was hired for the Minerals Management Service in advance of future offshore oil development. The MMS in February leased 2.76 million acres within an offshore area slightly smaller than Pennsylvania.

Observers Saturday were looking for whales but also recorded walrus and polar bears, said project director Janet Clark. Many were swimming north and ranged from 15 to 65 miles off shore, she said.

Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in May declared polar bears a threatened species because of an alarming loss of summer sea ice and forecasts the trend will continue.

Polar bears spend most of their lives on sea ice, which they use as a platform to hunt their primary prey, ringed seals. Shallow water over the continental shelf is the most biologically productive for seals, but pack ice in recent years has receded far beyond the shelf.

Conservation groups fear that one consequence of less ice will be more energy-sapping, long-distance swims by polar bears trying to reach feeding, mating or denning areas.

Steven Amstrup, senior polar bear scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage, said the bears could have been on a patch of ice that broke up northwest of Alaska's coast.

"The bears that had been on that last bit of ice that remained over shallow shelf waters, are now swimming either toward land or toward the rest of the sea ice, which is a considerable distance north," he said in an e-mail response to questions.

It probably is not a big deal for a polar bear in good condition to swim 10 or 15 miles, Amstrup said, but swims of 50 to 100 miles could be exhausting.

"We have some observations of bears swimming into shore when the sea ice was not visible on the horizon," he said. "In some of these cases, the bears arrive so spent energetically, that they literally don't move for a couple days after hitting shore."

Only further research can tell the effect of greater swimming distances on polar bear populations, he said.

"Polar bears can swim quite well, but they are not aquatic animals," he said. "Their home is on the surface of the ice."

Satellite data Saturday showed the main body of pack ice about 400 miles offshore with one ribbon about 100 miles off Alaska's coast, said Mark Serreze of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Clark said the animals' origin and destination could not be known without radio collar monitoring.

"To go out there and say they were going from this point to this point would be complete speculation," Clark said.

Observers have no indication of the fate of the nine polar bears observed Saturday.
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Monique Faulkner
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« Reply #1 on: August 27, 2008, 10:58:14 am »

Poor little guys.
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Roxanne Karstenetti
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« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2008, 04:42:51 pm »

Sarah Palin Vs. Polar Bears: "Adding Them To The [Endangered Species] List Is The Wrong Move"

Op-Ed Contributor
Bearing Up
Published: January 5, 2008
Juneau, Alaska

Camilla Engman
ABOUT the closest most Americans will ever get to a polar bear are those cute, cuddly animated images that smiled at us while dancing around, pitching soft drinks on TV and movie screens this holiday season.

This is unfortunate, because polar bears are magnificent animals, not cartoon characters. They are worthy of our utmost efforts to protect them and their Arctic habitat. But adding polar bears to the nation’s list of endangered species, as some are now proposing, should not be part of those efforts.

To help ensure that polar bears are around for centuries to come, Alaska (about a fifth of the world’s 25,000 polar bears roam in and around the state) has conducted research and worked closely with the federal government to protect them. We have a ban on most hunting — only Alaska Native subsistence families can hunt polar bears — and measures to protect denning areas and prevent harassment of the bears. We are also participating in international efforts aimed at preserving polar bear populations worldwide.

This month, the secretary of the interior is expected to rule on whether polar bears should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. I strongly believe that adding them to the list is the wrong move at this time. My decision is based on a comprehensive review by state wildlife officials of scientific information from a broad range of climate, ice and polar bear experts.

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, has argued that global warming and the reduction of polar ice severely threatens the bears’ habitat and their existence. In fact, there is insufficient evidence that polar bears are in danger of becoming extinct within the foreseeable future — the trigger for protection under the Endangered Species Act. And there is no evidence that polar bears are being mismanaged through existing international agreements and the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The state takes very seriously its job of protecting polar bears and their habitat and is well aware of the problems caused by climate change. But we know our efforts will take more than protecting what we have — we must also learn what we don’t know. That’s why state biologists are studying the health of polar bear populations and their habitat.

As a result of these efforts, polar bears are more numerous now than they were 40 years ago. The polar bear population in the southern Beaufort Sea off Alaska’s North Slope has been relatively stable for 20 years, according to a federal analysis.

We’re not against protecting plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act. Alaska has supported listings of other species, like the Aleutian Canada goose. The law worked as it should — under its protection the population of the geese rebounded so much that they were taken off the list of endangered and threatened species in 2001.

Listing the goose — then taking it off — was based on science. The possible listing of a healthy species like the polar bear would be based on uncertain modeling of possible effects. This is simply not justified.

What is justified is worldwide concern over the proven effects of climate change.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned for the polar bear to be protected, wants the listing to force the government to either stop or severely limit any public or private action that produces, or even allows, the production of greenhouse gases. But the Endangered Species Act is not the correct tool to address climate change — the act itself actually prohibits any consideration of broader issues.

Such limits should be adopted through an open process in which environmental issues are weighed against economic and social needs, and where scientists debate and present information that policy makers need to make the best decisions.

Americans should become involved in the issue of climate change by offering suggestions for constructive action to their state governments. But listing the polar bear as threatened is the wrong way to get to the right answer.

Sarah Palin, a Republican, is the governor of Alaska.
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