Nature – Images

Interesting Images

Polar Bear Picnic

Hundreds of hungry polar bears were treated to a whale of a buffet last week when the carnivores descended on a whale carcass on the coast of Russia’s Wrangel Island.

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Wildlife

Polar Bears – Good News

Polar bear populations are growing despite global warming, according to new research.

The new population estimates from the 2016 Scientific Working Group are somewhere between 22,633 to 32,257 bears, which is a net increase from the 2015 number of 22,000 to 31,000. The current population numbers are a sharp increase from 2005’s, which stated only 20,000 to 25,000 bears remained — those numbers were a major increase from estimates that only 8,000 to 10,000 bears remained in the late 1960s.

Until the new study, bear subpopulations in the Baffin Bay and Kane Basin (KB) were thought to be in decline due to over-hunting and global warming. The new report indicates this is not the case.

Scientists are increasingly realizing that polar bears are much more resilient to changing levels of sea ice than environmentalists previously believed, and numerous healthy populations are thriving.

Winged Extinction

The buzzing wings of crickets and grasshoppers could fall silent across the European landscape if action isn’t taken to protect the insects’ habitats, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The grassland inhabitants are an important food source for birds and reptiles, but more than a quarter of their species have been driven to extinction in recent decades. The disappearance has mainly been due to loss of habitat to wildfires, intensive agriculture and tourism development, according to the conservation group.

Monarch Losses

The number of monarch butterflies has dropped by 27 percent during recent months at the insects’ winter home in western Mexico. The plunge followed last year’s apparent recovery from the historically low numbers two years ago. Experts at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán state say some of the decline could be due to storms late last winter that felled more than 100 acres of forests where the colourful butterflies winter. The monarchs also suffered a high level of mortality due to the same cold, wet and windy storms.

Wildlife

Plan to Save Polar Bears

US wildlife authorities released on Monday, 9 December, a broad plan to try to save Arctic polar bears from going extinct, as global warming melts away their icy habitat at an increasing pace.

With just 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears estimated to be left in the world, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan calls for a series of actions to save these iconic creatures.

Above all, it calls for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, which arise from the burning of fossil fuels and contribute to a warming climate. The plan also calls for reducing conflicts between humans and bears, along with protecting their habitat and minimising the risk of contamination from oil spills.

Close management is urged for polar bear hunting, or a practice known as “subsistence harvest” that is legal for indigenous people and involves killing less than 4% of the bear’s total population per year.

Polar bears were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008 because of the loss of sea-ice habitat. Since then, conditions in the Arctic have deteriorated due to global warming. The area of the Arctic covered by sea ice in October and November 2016 was the lowest on record for that period.

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Wildlife

As Arctic Sea Ice Keeps Melting, Desperate Bears Threaten Alaska

Alaskan villages are seeing an increased presence of polar bears in their communities, according to a Monday report from PBS NewsHour, as the animals move inland to try and find food. The bears have been forced from their former hunting grounds as Arctic sea ice — which reached the second lowest recorded level over the weekend — has receded. Now, instead of finding their dinner in Arctic waters, the bears are poking around the ice boxes of Alaskans.

The altered behavior of the polar bears in Alaska, which are classified as a “vulnerable” species, illustrates the danger of melting Arctic ice for wildlife and communities in the region. Arctic sea ice, which researchers say could be gone sometime between two and 15 years from now, plays an important role in providing a habitat for polar bears and also in reflecting sunlight out of the atmosphere instead of allowing darker ocean water to absorb that heat.

Wildlife

“Grolar” Bears – Polar bears and Grizzly bears starting to mate more often

Grizzly web

A hunter has shot and killed a rare ‘grolar bear’ in Canada as researchers warn the existence of the hybrid could ultimately spell the end of the polar bear, the world’s largest land carnivore.

Polar and grizzly bears are increasingly mating with each other as the warming Arctic allows the two species to come into contact more often. A number of hybrids have been DNA tested in recent years.

However researchers have warned the existence of hybrid pizzlies or grolars could lead to the death of the polar bear species, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Normally grizzlies are put off going into polar bear territory because they struggle in deep snow.

But higher temperatures mean they have been extending their range in recent years with roaming males coming into contact with female polar bears.

While first generation hybrid bears are equally grizzly and polar bear, further breeding with grizzlies will gradually reduce the level of polar genes.

Bat Invasion – Australia

Batemans Bay, just south of Sydney, has been overrun by an influx of arts which is terrorising locals. The enormous influx of the species of megabats has easily overtaken the town which has a human population of just 11,000.

Experts believe that one in four grey-headed flying foxes that live in Australia have now made their home in the town.

Residents have complained about the foul odor and terrible screeching noise emitted by the unwanted inhabitants. The bats set up a colony in the town years ago but their numbers have rapidly multiplied recently. Bats can now be spotted on nearly “every surface and in every tree” according to residents.

The destructive bats have caused power cuts, kept tourists away and hit property prices. But this is nothing compared to the inconvenience and trauma it has caused the residents.

The New South Wales Government announced that the community will receive 2.5 million Australian dollars to help with the relocation of the bats.

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Wildlife

Hungry Polar Bears Decimating Seabird Colonies

While the iconic images of polar bears in a warming world are arguably of starving bears shivering on ice floes, or of bears swimming great distances as those floes disappear, a different scene may be a more accurate portrayal of the animal’s near future: hungry polar bears decimating colonies of nesting seabirds.

Polar bears have increasingly been observed marauding through colonies of seabirds as they seek alternate sources of sustenance in the absence of sea ice. There have been cases of polar bears eating snow goose eggs, and the chicks and eggs of thick-billed murres, in Arctic Canada – with the bears in some instances even clambering up cliff faces to reach the nests.

Last year, a team of European researchers reported that, in Greenland and the Svalbard Archipelago, bear raids on colonies of common eiders, glaucous gulls and barnacle geese, rarely if ever seen before 2000, are now commonplace.

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Wildlife

Polar Bears – Swimming Fatigue

Researchers have confirmed that polar bears are being forced to swim more frequently and for much longer distances as sea ice around the North Pole experiences more extensive melt under the influence of climate change.

A team from the University of Alberta, Climate Change Canada and the Zoological Society of San Diego used GPS tags placed on bears in the Beaufort Sea and Hudson Bay to determine their altered swimming behaviour.

Study co-author Andrew Derocher says that the longer swims are particularly hard on mothers with cubs, possibly explaining the decline in the number of bears in the southern Beaufort Sea.

Great Barrier Reef Devastated by Coral Bleaching

We knew coral bleaching was a serious issue in the Great Barrier Reef, but the scope of just how widespread it was has been unclear — until now.

Extensive aerial surveys and dives have revealed that 93 percent of the world’s largest reef has been devastated by coral bleaching. The culprit has been record-warm water driven by El Niño and climate change that has cooked the life out of corals.

The Centre conducted aerial surveys and dives at 911 sites spanning the full 1,430-mile length of the reef. They show the hardest hit areas are in the northern part of the reefs, which have also endured some of the hottest water temperatures for prolonged periods.

More than 80 percent of reefs surveyed there showed signs of severe bleaching. The southern end of the reef fared better, but overall the bleaching represents a massive blow to biodiversity at the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Great Barrier Reef also faces pressure from ocean acidification and fishing impacts, ramping up concerns over how to protect one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet.

Great barrier reef lizard island

Vietnam investigates mass fish deaths

Vietnam said on Thursday said it was investigating whether pollution is to blame for a spate of mysterious mass fish deaths along the country’s central coast after huge amounts of marine life washed ashore in recent days.

Tons of fish, including rare species which live far offshore and in the deep, have been discovered on beaches along the country’s central coastal provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Tri, Quang Binh and Hue.

The strange situation first came to light when farmed fish in the area began dying in great numbers, he said, with locals later discovering huge numbers of dead fish on beaches.

Signs point to t.he fish having been poisoned by “unidentified substances,” Tran Dinh Du, deputy director of agriculture in Quang Binh province, said.

Central Ha Tinh province is home to a sprawling economic zone which houses numerous industrial plants, including a multi-billion dollar steel plant run by Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa.

Hanoi has dispatched teams of environmental experts and officials to investigate the phenomenon.

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Wildlife

Alaska Polar Bears Now Live on ‘Treadmill’

An acceleration in the movement of the Arctic’s sea ice is presenting yet another climate change challenge to polar bears, making them work harder and travel farther just to stay in the same place, according to new research.

The animals have historically just rested beside holes in the ice as they waited for seals to emerge and become their next meal.

But the thinning Arctic sea ice is now drifting more quickly to the west, forcing the bears to become more active to compensate for the movement of the ice.

“In order for an Alaskan polar bear to remain an Alaskan polar bear, it must walk farther or faster to the east on the ‘treadmill,’ or it will end up in Russia,” explained U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist David Douglas.

Polar bear waiting for a seal to emerge from a hole in the Arctic sea ice pack.

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Global Warming

Emaciated Polar Bear – Reality of Global Warming

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Wildlife photographer Kerstin Langenberger captured this shocking photo of a deathly thin and starving polar bear as it struggles to capture food in the melting icecaps. It shows the effects of climate change better than any explanation . . .

Global warming alert as El Niño returns with a vengeance

The world is starting to heat up again, say British scientists, raising speculation that a 15-year slowdown in the rate of global warming could be coming to an end.

A pause in the rate of global temperature rises since the late 1990s has baffled climate scientists and led some to question whether man-made climate change was a serious problem.

But last year was the warmest on record, according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation, and scientists at the UK’s Met Office say both this year and 2016 are shaping up to be just as hot.

The strengthening Pacific weather pattern, El Niño, which some US scientists forecast could be the most powerful in years, is likely to be one reason for the rise in temperatures.

California’s ‘Snow Drought’

In April, statewide measurements of water contents of California’s snowpack — a major source of water for reservoirs during the summers — showed that the water content in the snow was only 5 percent of the normal for that date, making it the lowest in a 75-year record. Further analysis of available data has now shown that the situation is much worse than previously estimated.

According to a new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, the amount of snow in the Sierra Nevada is now at its lowest level in over 500 years.

California snowpack

Wildlife

Polar bears in peril due to global warming

Polar bears are at risk of dying off if humans don’t reverse the trend of global warming, a blunt U.S. government report filed Thursday said.

Greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, which is reducing the amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic. Polar bears use sea ice for feeding, mating and giving birth. The Office of Naval Research said the past eight years have had the eight lowest amounts of summer sea ice on record.

“The single most important step for polar bear conservation is decisive action to address Arctic warming,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a draft recovery plan, part of the process after the agency listed the species as threatened in 2008.

“Short of action that effectively addresses the primary cause of diminishing sea ice, it is unlikely that polar bears will be recovered.”

Halting Arctic warming will require a global commitment, said Jenifer Kohout, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional program manager and a co-chair of the polar bear recovery team.

“In the meantime, the Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners are committed to doing everything within our control to give the bears a chance to survive while we await global action,” she said during a teleconference Thursday.

Global Warming

Polar bears eat dolphins as Arctic warms

Norwegian scientists have seen polar bears eating dolphins in the Arctic for the first time ever and blame global warming for the bears expanding their diet.

Polar bears feed mainly on seals but Jon Aars at the Norwegian Polar Institute has photographed dolphins being devoured by a bear and published his findings in the latest edition of Polar Research this month.

“It is likely that new species are appearing in the diet of polar bears due to climate change because new species are finding their way north,” he told AFP.

The first incident he documented was in April 2014 when his team came across a polar feeding on the carcasses of two white-beaked dolphins.

Although dolphins are regularly seen in the Norwegian Arctic in the summer months when the ice has melted, they have never been observed during winter or spring when the sea is usually still covered in sheets of ice.

But Norwegian scientists have reported a strong retreat of ice and two nearly ice-free winters in recent years which they said could have attracted the dolphins further north, where they probably became trapped by the sudden arrival of dense ice blown into a fjord by strong northerly winds.

Aars said the bear he photographed had probably caught the two dolphins when they surfaced to breathe through a tiny hole in the ice.

Sitting at the top of the Arctic food chain, polar bears are opportunistic predators that are also known to feed on small whales if the opportunity arises.

Wildlife

South Australia Wildfires Kill and Injure Many Animals

Some of South Australia’s worst wildfires in 30 years killed or injured an untold number of animals earlier this month in addition to destroying at least 32 human homes and sending 100 people to hospitals.

Many surviving animals have been left without food, water or access to shelter.

Among the more heartbreaking images to come out of the firestorms near Adelaide were photos of koalas being treated for burnt paws.

The head of one animal rescue organization said that when caught in a wildfire, koalas “get to a point where they are in so much pain … they just sit at the bottom of a tree and scream.”

A public appeal for people to make mittens for the burnt marsupials was quickly heeded.

Most of the rescued koalas are expected to recover enough to be returned to the wild.

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Polar Bears Head North As Arctic Sea Ice Melts

Recent generations of polar bears have been observed moving high into the Canadian Arctic in response to climate change and the melting of Arctic sea ice.

Using DNA samples, U.S. Geological Survey researchers found that some clusters of known polar bear populations have migrated over the past 15 to 45 years to islands of the Canadian Archipelago that have more stable sea ice.

Lead researcher Elizabeth Peacock says the bears have chosen this area because it is “where the sea is more resilient to summer melt due to circulation patterns, complex geography and cooler northern latitudes.”

She and her colleagues conclude that the regions closest to the North Pole could serve as a last refuge for the bears, which need the ice to travel, forage and mate.

Arctic sea ice has declined in autumn by more than 9 percent per decade since 1979.

Climate models predict that even the northernmost parts of the Arctic will be mainly ice-free before the middle of this century.

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Global Warming

Polar Bears and Global Warming

Melting ice is a major problem because of its contribution to sea level rise, but it also affects wildlife in all kinds of ways. As their frozen hunting grounds melt away, some polar bears — like this one — are turning to cannibalism and eating their own cubs.

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Wildlife

Endangered Polar Bears Mating With Brown Bears Because Of Global Warming?

Polar bears are mating with brown bears, producing a rare hybrid! With the climate change slowly melting the North Pole ice cap, polar bears are forced southwards where they are now beginning to live on brown grizzly bears’ territories. Scientists in Canada have found these hybrids wandering in the polar circles and have named them pizzilies and grolar bears, fun portmanteaus of polar bear and grizzlies.

The first sighting, documented by Spiegel, was on Victoria Island, 313 miles from the grizzlies’ normal habitat on the Canadian mainland. The scientists thought that they were looking at a polar bear, but upon closer examination, they saw that the bear had a dark stripe on its back, a shaded snout and a much larger head with a hump behind its shoulders, which is characteristic of brown bears. These bears also had longer claws, which are strange to see on polar bears. A DNA analysis reported by National Geographic confirmed that a bear in the Canadian Arctic is indeed a polar bear and grizzly hybrid. While these hybrids have happened in captivity, it is the first time that cross-breeding has happened in the wild.

These hybrids are believed to be a result of global warming and human activity. The melting polar ice cap is forcing polar bears onto dry land and road construction, mining and deforestation is pushing the brown bears north.

Pizzilies and grolar bears may look cool, but in fact hybridization is a serious matter. As these gene pools mix, the genetic diversity will decrease. Also, this may also decrease the production of actual grizzlies and polar bears as the bears waste the time and resources to produce infertile hybrids. In fact, the hybrids may pose threats to polar bears, which are known to be less aggressive.

Pizzlies

Wildlife

International Polar Bear Day

Today is International Polar Bear Day. Here are some facts about the furry beasts.

An adult male polar bear typically weighs between 775 and 1,200 pounds (351 to 544 kilograms), or the weight of about five to seven men. The largest polar bear ever recorded was a male weighing 2,209 pounds (1,000 kg), according to Polar Bear International. By contrast, adult females weigh only half as much as males, or 330 to 650 pounds (50 to 295 kg). But the bears are tiny when they’re born, weighing only about 1 pound (0.5 kg). Males reach their adult size between ages 8 and 14, while females reach full size between ages 5 and 6.

If a polar bear doesn’t eat for seven to 10 days, it can slow its metabolism until it finds its next meal. They survive off of fat reserves from their diet, which consists mostly of ringed and bearded seals. (But climate change is making food more scarce and driving some bears to cannibalism.) The bears don’t hibernate, but mother bears live in dens while they raise their cubs. While mothers are in their dens (generally between January and March), they don’t eat, drink or defecate.

Although polar bears appear white, their fur is actually transparent. It only appears white because it reflects visible light. Under their fur, polar bear skin is actually black. To humans and other animals that can only see in visible light, the bears appear to blend in with their snowy surroundings. But reindeer, which polar bears sometimes prey on, can see in ultraviolet light, which makes polar bears stand out from their snowy environment.

Polar bears have a keen sense of smell, which they use to find prey. A polar bear can sniff out a seal on the ice 20 miles (32 kilometres) away, and can smell a seal’s breathing hole in the ice more than half a mile away, according to the National Zoo.

Polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt, and studies predict that global warming could melt enough sea ice to make two-thirds of polar bears disappear by 2050. The decline in sea ice has forced the bears to swim longer distances, consuming energy they cannot afford to use.

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