An Ode to the Polar Bear and the Arctic
Polar Bears are extraordinary! On International Polar Bear Day, it is time to celebrate the bear that has become part of our culture, though art, food, literature and as an emblem of climate change. A super predator that has adapted over thousands of years to exist in one of the harshest, most remote places on earth. A example of the miracle of evolution and a near mythical symbol of life in the freezer, a once impenetrable ice kingdom, that is now hugely threatened by the sudden warming of our blue planet and the looming threat to plunder its natural resources. Surely, it is up to each and every one of us to ensure that the bear doesn’t become a creature that only exists in history books, art and scientific journals?
A Voyage to the North Pole
Ursus Maritimus, the sea bear, was first noted and documented by Commander C.J. Phipps, in A Voyage Towards the North Pole, in 1774. The Latin name refers to the animal’s close association with the Arctic’s chilly waters and its sea ice, on which the bear depends for its survival. A female polar bear can go without food for up to 220 days, living off the fat and nutritious blubber of the grey seal, which is its primary prey and food source.
“A few days after my daughter was born, we lay side by side in bed while she nursed. I could hear her swallowing and her fists pawed at me. I remember feeling as if I could have been a mother pig, a mother bear. In that moment, the only thing that mattered was that we were mammals.” Extract from Memoirs of a Polar Bear By Yoko Tawada, Translated by Susan Bernofsky
Do you think that polar bears live at both poles? This is a popular misconception. The bear only inhabits the Arctic. There are plenty of penguins in Antarctica but no snow bears. The majority of the world’s remaining polar bear populations are clustered around Canada’s frozen Hudson Bay, Greenland, Alaska, Russia and Norway. Nor are they left pawed! Scientists working for Polar Bears International, have observed that polar bears are just as likely to use both paws and when they want to join in a meal with fellow bears, they lower their eyes, and submissively rub noses with the bear that made the kill. All the more remarkable then, that this gentle behaviour seems to work, and there have been fascinating sightings of groups of bears dining en masse on a whale carcass, just like civilised friends at a dinner party. Polar bears are just like humans, they have etiquette and manners too!
As the earth continues to warm, the arctic sea ice melts, and we have a new incumbent in the White House who thinks that climate change is a scam, dreamt up by the Chinese and the green lobby, to disrupt the American dream, it is has never been more important to use International Polar Bear Day to celebrate the bear, and do everything we can to stop their demise and talk about the unfolding crisis in our weather which is highlighted by what is happening in the Arctic right now. The polar bear is the canary. Today we have starving mother polar bears, that can’t feed their cubs, but soon it could people who are starving, as our increasingly unstable weather starts to disrupt our globalised food chain and affect the delicate gulf stream, which could put Britain and other parts of Europe in the freezer, with very little warning.
If we the people don’t fight for the arctic, and the bears, and reverse the disastrous effects on our weather, who will? Not the oil companies, sizing up the pristine arctic for the potential untapped riches, lying beneath its once impenetrable seas.
Join in the Thermostat Challenge
So, let today be a rallying call to – Think More Polar Bear – turn the thermostat down in our homes, schools and businesses, and let’s see how collectively we can start make the north pole very, very cold again. For who could forget Gordon Buchanan’s haunting elegy to the arctic, and to Lyra, the mother polar bear struggling to keep her two cubs alive as her source of food became scarce, in the BBC’s landmark acclaimed natural history series, The Polar Bear Family and Me. The programme did much to show how fragile the arctic ecosystem really is, and how all life on earth depends on what we do, not in isolation, but together.
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Images courtesy of Polars Bears International, the BBC, and SleepBear. All Rights Reserved 2017.