Follow the Ice and Save the Polar Bears

Want to save the polar bears? It's all in the ice, baby!

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is launching a new initiative to save our planet's largest terrestrial predator, not by observing those fearsome cutie patooties themselves, but by tracking the sea-ice habitat that is rapidly receding because of global warming.

For its "Warm Waters for Cool Bears" project, the WCS will use both current and historical satellite imagery to predict where sea ice —a vital habitat for polar bears and the seals they hunt—is likely to stay put, as well as where polar-bear-conservation efforts will be most effective.Funded by a $100,00 grant from the Wendy P. McCaw Foundation, the new project will enable landscape ecologists to key in nearly 30 years of daily collected satellite imagery and meterological data in a Geographic Information (GIS) map. Armed with this data, conservationists will be able to more accurately predict where sea ice will persist into the near future.

The polar bear, which the U.S. government proposed listing as "Threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, is "at a crossroads," according to Scott Bergen, a landscape ecologist with WCS' Living Landscapes Program and the principal investigator for the project. "The survival of some polar-bear populations depend on the decisions we make within the next year. Fortunately, by using available data on sea ice trends over the past few decades, we can make effective decisions that can make a difference for the largest carnivore on earth."

Previous polar-bear studies typically focused on either observing individual bears or following them via satellite collars, often "at great cost and risk to bears and researchers alike", says the WCS.

The ice is crucial to the survival of the bears because they rely on seasonal ice to stalk their principal prey: ring and bearded seals. If not for the ice, the bears wouldn't be able to get anywhere near these fast swimming marine mammals.

Another good reason to save the ice: Because of the unpredictability of the melting of the sea ice away from the coast regions that bears migrate to when it gets warmer, bears that make it to shore could find themselves stranded without food as the melting ice becomes increasingly distant and inaccessible. :: Newswise

See also: :: Polar Bears on Thin Ice and :: European Kids Track Polar Bears to Understand Global Warming

Tags: Biodiversity | Conservation

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