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Climate unbearable for polar bears

Submitted by Marie Gilbert
Phone: 907-474-7412

02/17/04

Polar bears may disappear within 100 years unless the rate of global warming is slowed, says international polar bear expert Dr. Andrew Derocher of the University of Alberta.

"The climate predictions coming out are showing massive changes in sea-ice distribution," Derocher said in a Science Daily online story.

"You don't have to be a polar scientist to see that if you take away all the sea ice, you don't have polar bears any more," said Derocher, who earned international renown as a polar bear and northern studies expert at the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromso before returning to the University of Alberta.

Derocher will present two public seminars hosted by the Institute of Arctic Biology (IAB) and the Alaska Biological Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN).

"Polar bears in a changing climate" will be Wednesday, Feb. 18, from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in Elvey Auditorium on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. "Effects of pollutants on polar bears" will be Thursday, Feb. 19, from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in Elvey Auditorium.

"He's (Derocher) done some of the best work on free-ranging polar bears in the world," Todd O'Hara, IAB wildlife toxicology professor and wildlife veterinary toxicologist, said.

O'Hara has worked on polar bears with a focus on contaminants since he came to Alaska in 1995, and credits hunters and the North Slope Borough for providing him and a research team access to harvested animals during his previous work near Barrow.

"He wrote the polar bear chapter for the Encyclopedia of the Arctic, considered the "bible" on polar bears, Falk Huettmann, IAB professor of wildlife ecology, said.

"He adds a great component to the circumpolar view of the arctic environment dealing with wildlife and toxicology and climate change," Huettmann said.

Torsten Bentzen, a graduate student in the Department of Biology and Wildlife, is also working on contaminants in polar bears, specifically organochlorines.

"Traditional Western knowledge is that they primarily eat ringed seals, but in recent years there's been increased reports of polar bears scavenging on bowhead whale carcasses landed by Native subsistence hunters," Bentzen said.

"Seals feed higher on food chain and so carry a heavier load of contaminants," Bentzen said. "Bowhead tissues are quite clean."

Bentzen's research will use stable isotopes and organochlorines to determine the amount of bowhead whale in the diet of Alaska polar bears.

For more information contact Marie Gilbert, IAB, 474-7412, marie.gilbert@uaf.edu or Falk Huettmann, IAB, 474-7882, fffh@uaf.edu .