Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Polar Bears Under Pressure
A firsthand account documents how rising temperatures in the Arctic are depleting food sources and putting the animals at risk
I was certain to witness strong competition among the bears for the carcass. My worry was that the aggression between the bears could jump the species barrier. A frustrated animal that was displaced from the whale may direct his anger at an innocent bystander. A beluga is only marginally larger than an adult bull moose, and I’ve watched grizzlies defend a moose carcass violently even at a time when other food sources were available in abundance. If the polar bears lived up to their reputation, the animals should fight for access to food more fiercely than grizzlies.
By the second day, we left our compound to move among the bears. None of the animals showed any hostility or dominant behavior toward us. The only reaction we evoked was slight avoidance in a few of them. However, to take these animals for granted could quickly become a fatal mistake, a truth that’s driven home a little while later.
We’re now back at camp. The wind is blowing the scent of the dead whale down the coast. At regular intervals, I scan the horizon for new arrivals. I spot a bear when he’s still more than a mile away. His determined step and alert body posture make me uneasy. He’s also within the age group of animals that worries me most. Full adults usually show little interest in man. They know how to live in the Arctic environment. Very young animals in the first years on their own get pushed around by all bears and are usually easy to impress. It’s the nearly full-grown—the bear equivalent of a late teenager—that most often pose problems. They’re big enough to hold their own against other bears, with the exception of dominant males. They like to flex their muscles and, weighing around 700 to 800 pounds, they’re a formidable force. They’re still inquisitive, investigating everything unknown in search for food. They’re almost unstoppable if they have their mind set on something.
Page 2 of 3
Get 11 Issues of Outdoor Photographer for only $14.97!
That's 77% off the cover price!