Polar Bear 30 crop
David J Slater, SVALBARD,
Norway, August 2010
The iconic Polar Bear! The largest land carnivore
in the world and perhaps the most loved. It was my
privelege to be able to see the Polar Bear during my two
week stay on Svalbard. After the seasonal retreat
of the sea ice, any bears remaining on land has a couple
of months of hardship ahead before the sea ice returns.
This is because their usual prey, the seal, cannot so
easily be hunted. They largely rely on topping up
their fat reserves by scavenging and eating vegetation
such as nutritious seaweeds and mosses.
Polar Bear 26
They will often become "stranded" on land due to the
timing of mating and cubbing being out of synch with the
seasonal thaw. On Svalbard, denning areas are
traditionally in the south, the first areas to be left
ice free. However, the bears know of many ways
across land back to the northern areas where, hopefully,
the ice still remains. In 2009 the ice remained
all year in the north, but in 2010 the ice all went.
Polar Bear 33 (large
During the summer months of late-July to early September
the Polar bears lose a lot of weight and look thin.
They have a keen sense of smell and can track down
carrion over many kilometres. This female had
tracked our party down during a trip to an old hunters
cabin. Despite firing off flares to deter its
approach, it persisted in coming towards us meaning a
hurried retreat back to our boat. Our leader did
not allow me or the others to witness its approach so I
did loose out on what could have been stunning photos.
This is one of few photographs of a polar bear I did manage from the safety of
the boat some 100 metres away!
Polar Bear 29
Here is another photograph of the bear as it came into view
after we had all left the beach. Like the other
photographs above, I like the environmental story of this
image as it shows the loneliness of the bear and just
how ice free Svalbard can be, with snow only clinging on
to the highest hills. Too many polar bear images I
see are straight portraits with the only environment
being white snow! These, I think, are
refreshingkly different from the norm.
Polar Bear 02
Polar Bear 04 and cub
But the most favoured shots are those of cubs.
This was the only cub I saw, and to be honest it looked
weak and hungry. The mother didn't seem too
concerned and even snapped at the youngster when we saw
her retrieve a piece of meat from a submerged dead
whale. The cub contented itself with seaweed!
These two photographs show the few moments when the
mother seemed to take any notice of her baby.
Polar Bear 32 (crop)
Polar Bears are the doyenne of the global warming
alarmists. Often we're shown images
of bears clinging to bits of ice, fearful of an ice-free
Arctic, with glaciers collapsing everywhere.
People ask me what I saw and if all these fearful ideas
are coming true. As you can see from the photos
and from what I learned, the image of an ice free Arctic
is the usual summer coat of the bears' world. In
2007, an international study that was outlined by the US
Senate Committee on Environment (click
link here) showing that the majority of polar
bear populations are stable, with just a few decreasing.
At least one decreasing population, it was later
discovered was due to colder weather rapidly freezing up
the seal holes the bears need to feed. The IUCN (a
United Nations accredited organisation) seem to disagree
in 2009 (click
link here), whereas President Obama seems to
think otherwise (click
here). The science is not conclusive as
we are all discovering, and it's up to you to do your
A common occurence in summer is a
collapsing ice wall into the sea. Will this image
of a 20m high ice wall ever be used to deceive you that
all is not well?
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