We are One: Polar Bears, Penguins and Plovers

July 26, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Blue IcebergBlue Iceberg      Climate change affects biodiversity. Species such as the polar bear in the Arctic, the Adelie Penguin in Antarctica, and the snowy plover in Florida, share a similar challenge: Their ecosystems are threatened by climate change.

1.Bear Closeup1.Bear Closeup

Closeup male polar bear after eating seal

     Polar Bears on the Brink

     About 20,000 polar bears live in five countries in the Arctic circle:  U.S. (Alaska), Canada, Norway, Russia, and Greenland. Bears travel great distances between their winter and summer habitats, crossing country borders. We share two polar bear populations: one with Russia, and one with Canada.

2Massive Male Polar Bear2Massive Male Polar Bear Massive male polar bear with scars on face from fights

     These huge carnivores (males can reach 1,500 pounds and measure eight to nine feet from nose to tail), are well adapted to a polar marine environment. White hair provides camouflage, while large paws enable careful treading on slippery ice, and fast swimming. Female paws carry scent on the ice so males can locate them during mating season. A polar bear’s acute sense of smell can track a scent twenty miles away.

3.Bear jumping ice floe3.Bear jumping ice floe Polar bear jumping ice floe

     Polar bears rely on sea ice for hunting, denning, and breeding. Due to climate change, their prime habitat is melting three weeks earlier and reforming three weeks later. Melting sea ice brings fewer ringed seals and less meat for bears. Thus, female bears are not eating as much and have fewer or no cubs. One-third to half of cubs die in their first year.

4Bear nursing cubs74Bear nursing cubs7

Female bear nursing 18 month old cubs. The female stays with her cubs for over 2 years.

5Mom leaping into water with cub behind5Mom leaping into water with cub behind Cubs follow mother as she jumps into the sea.

     Polar bears are threatened, yet harvested at an unsustainable rate: about 1,000 polar bears a year are killed. Although the Arctic glaciers are melting faster than any place on earth, excessive hunting of a declining population may push our white bear into extinction.

6Bear climbing onto ice floe6Bear climbing onto ice floe

Polar bear climbing up on sea ice floe.

Penguins in Antarctica

1closeup Adelie penguin1closeup Adelie penguin      On the bottom of the globe, the habitat of Adelie penguins is losing 250 billion tons of ice a year, as glaciers melt and sea ice disappears.  The loss of winter sea ice diminishes penguin’s major food supply, Antarctic krill. The Adelie penguin needs sea ice to rest on, but not to nest on.

2Adelie penguin on iceberg2Adelie penguin on iceberg These flightless birds build nests out of pebbles and need a shoreline free of ice and snow. Because warmer temperatures allow the air to carry more moisture, snowfall has increased, leaving little snow-free ground for nests. Thus, Adelie penguin populations are declining.

3 Adelie penguin checking on eggs3 Adelie penguin checking on eggs

An Adelie Penguin checks her egg and re-positions them on her pebble nest.

The Snowy Plover in Florida

3.Snowy Plover chick at wrack line3.Snowy Plover chick at wrack line Snowy plover chick at the wrack line

    This dainty waif of a shorebird (about six inches long) blends into the sand and disappears from sight as it dashes along the wrack line, eating tiny invertebrates. Like other state-threatened shorebirds, the snowy plover nests in small scrapes in the sand, usually on open beaches. Florida has about 200-250 breeding snowy plover breeding pairs.

1.Snowy plover nesting1.Snowy plover nesting Adult nesting

This optimistic species regularly loses its eggs to predators, human disturbance and flooding, but most birds attempt to re-nest. Bird Stewards rope off areas and educate beach goers about these adorable creatures. Snowy plovers’ habitat is threatened due to sea-level rise, beach raking, and storms. 2 Snowy Plover cuddling with chick2 Snowy Plover cuddling with chick 5. Snowy plover chick eating insect5. Snowy plover chick eating insect Snowy Plover chick with insect

Climate change affects polar bears, penguins, plovers, and us. We are connected. As John Muir said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” 4. Two snowy plover chicks pause4. Two snowy plover chicks pause


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