The Beacon

Blog Tags: Polar Bears

Ocean Roundup: Nearly 1,000 Sea Turtles Strand off Cape Cod, Suez Canal Expansion Poses Environmental Risks, and More

A nesting Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Nearly 1,000 sea turtles, most of them Kemp’s ridleys, stranded off Cape Cod over the past month. (Photo: National Park Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

- Scientists are sounding the alarm on the Suez Canal expansion, saying it will invite invasive species from the Red Sea that could wreak economic and environmental damage in the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt is both widening the existing channel and adding an extra lane.  The Guardian


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Ocean Roundup: Seals Can Pick up Pings from Acoustic Tags on Fish, Climate Change Making Crabs “Sluggish,” and More

Grey seals may be able to detect pings from fishing gear

Grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) in Santander bay, Cantabria, Spain. New research shows grey seals may be able to pick up pings from acoustic tags on fish. (Photo: Oceana / Enrique Talledo)

- New research shows that seals are picking up on the pings from acoustic tags on fish. Through experiments, the researchers found that seals located fish with acoustic tags on them more easily than untagged fish. BBC News


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Polar Bears’ Stinky Feet Play Important Role in Their Behavior, Study Says

Polar bears have stinky feet

Polar bear paws. (Photo: Alan D. Wilson / Nature's Pics Online)

Polar bears may appear ultra-adorable and cuddly from afar, but new research revealed one fun fact about polar bears that isn’t so cute: They have really smelly feet.


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Ocean Roundup: Polar Bears Have Smelly Feet, 21 Sharks, Rays, and Sawfish Gain Protection, and More

CMS protected 31 new species

The thresher shark is one of the species protected over the weekend. (Photo: Klaus Stiefel / Flickr Creative Commons)

- The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has put new fishing regulations in place for striped bass. Amid population declines, the Commission imposed a 25 percent catch rate reduction for 2015, and recreational fishermen can only catch one fish. Providence Journal


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Ocean Roundup: Polar Bears Congregating in Manitoba, Northern Shrimp Declining across Their Range, and More

Polar bears could lose two-thirds of their population by mid century

Polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba. (Photo: Valerie / Flickr Creative Commons)

- Yesterday, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory held a meeting behind closed doors with state and federal officials and agencies involved with offshore drilling, which was closed to journalists, environmental groups, and the public. The meeting included discussions related to offshore oil and gas exploration that could be coming to the North Carolina coast within a few years. The Associated Press


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Ocean Roundup: Polar Bears Turning to Snow Geese for Food, Arctic Sea Ice Found to Absorb CO2, and More

Polar bears diets are shifting from climate change

Polar bears are shifting diets to deal with climate change. (Photo: Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service / Flickr Creative Commons)

- Researchers say that sea otter populations, who have been slowly rebounding after recovering from near-extinction, did not increase from 2013. This is worrisome to scientists, who say that a lack of food, increased shark attacks, disease, and other factors are keeping them from recovery. SFGate


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Video: Polar Bear Cam Provides Unique View into Arctic Life

Scientists observe polar bears in the Arctic through video camera collars

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) (Photo: Maryanneneslon / Flickr Creative Commons)

Warning: This video contains footage of polar bears consuming their prey. 

It looks like the famed Panda Cam at the National Zoo has a new rival. Recently-released footage of a polar bear in the Arctic  is giving scientists and polar bear-enthusiasts alike a glimpse into the elusive lives of these endangered animals—and giving pandas at the National Zoo a run for their money.


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Uncovering Surprising Blooms in the Arctic

polarbear

A changing Arctic spells bad news for polar bears and other animals ©Michael Stephens

Last summer I had the amazing opportunity to be on board the U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy, in partnership with N.A.S.A.’s ICESCAPE mission to study the effects of ocean acidification on phytoplankton communities in the Arctic Ocean. We collected thousands of water samples and ice cores in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

While in the northern reaches of the Chukchi Sea, we discovered large “blooms” of phytoplankton under the ice. It had previously been assumed that sea ice blocked the sunlight necessary for the growth of marine plants. But the ice acts like a greenhouse roof and magnifies the light under the ice, creating a perfect breeding ground for the microscopic creatures. Phytoplankton play an important role in the ocean, without which our world would be drastically different.

Phytoplankton take CO2 out of the water and release oxygen, almost as much as terrestrial plants do. The ecological consequences of the bloom are not yet fully understood, but because they are the base of the entire food chain in the oceans, this was a monumental discovery that will shape our understanding of the Arctic ecosystem in the coming years.

The Arctic is one of the last truly wild places on our planet, where walruses, polar bears, and seals out-number humans, and raised their heads in wonderment as we walked along the ice and trespassed into their domain. However, their undeveloped home is currently in grave danger. The sea ice that they depend on is rapidly disappearing as the Arctic is dramatically altered by global warming.

Some predictions are as grave as a seasonally ice-free Arctic by 2050. Drilling for oil in the Arctic presents its own host of problems, most dangerous of which is that there is no proven way to clean up spilled oil in icy conditions. An oil spill in the Arctic could be devastating to the phytoplankton and thereby disrupt the entire ecosystem. The full effects of such a catastrophe cannot be fully evaluated without better information about the ocean, and we should not be so hasty to drill until we have that basic understanding.  

Unless we take drastic action to curb our emissions of CO2 and prevent drilling in the absence of basic science and preparedness, we may see not only an ice-free Arctic in our lifetimes, but also an Arctic ecosystem that is drastically altered.


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Q&A with 'To The Arctic' Filmmakers

ToTheArctic

To the Arctic showcases unique Arctic species like polar bears. ©IMAX

Oceana had a chance to talk to Greg and Shaun MacGillivray, the producers of To the Arctic, an IMAX 3D film that explores the changing landscape of the Arctic and the animals that call it home. Here's what they had to say about survivng the cold and falling in love with a family of polar bears.

Q: Without revealing any spoilers, what is To the Arctic going to show us that we’ve never seen before?

To The Arctic is the first 3D IMAX film ever shot in the Arctic, and because of the immersive, experiential quality of 3D IMAX footage shown on screens 80 feet tall, audiences will feel like they have been transported to this incredibly wild and pristine place without even having to put a parka on. We were extremely lucky while shooting in Norway to find a mother polar bear and her two cubs willing to let us follow and film them at close range for five days straight, which is unprecedented. Polar bears are usually skittish around humans and will avoid them. But this mother was completely comfortable with us and even seemed to like having us nearby. The result is that we were able to capture extremely rare, close-up footage showing the daily lives of a polar bear family in a changing Arctic, and the incredible lengths to which this mother went to protect and nurture her cubs. We saw her fend off four different attacks by hungry male polar bears in five days, and we have it all on film. 

Q: What were some of the challenges filming in Arctic conditions?

In the Arctic we were primarily filming wildlife, which is hard enough in normal conditions. But the extreme cold and wind and remoteness of our locations made it even more difficult than usual. When you’re filming wildlife, there is a lot of waiting and searching for the animals, and then you want to try to capture a variety of animal behaviors, so you have to give yourself lots of time. We were in the field much longer for To The Arctic  than for any of our other films—about 8 months over four years—and we were never really comfortable. On one trip, during our three-week stay aboard an icebreaker in Norway, the showers weren’t working, so we didn’t bathe for 21 days straight! For the underwater crew filming under the ice cap, the conditions were even more challenging. They were filming in water that was 29 degrees Fahrenheit, literally “liquid ice.” Only the salt content in the water kept it from freezing. It was so cold that their longest dive was only 45 minutes. Any longer and their hands would have become completely frozen.

Q: How different was diving in the Arctic compared to California? 

Well, for one thing, we were filming polar bears underwater, which you don’t find too often in California. To get the shots, we relied on Bob Cranston, a brave underwater cinematographer who has photographed alligators, great white sharks, venomous snakes, and now, the fiercest predator of all--polar bears. They are eating machines, so we sent in Bob. He invented a way to film them by diving down below them, then waiting for the bear’s natural curiosity to cause them to investigate our cameras. If the bears got too close for comfort, Bob would sink down out of range. Polar bears don’t like to dive too deep—the deepest we saw them dive was about 20 feet—so as long as Bob picked spots where the water was deeper than that, he felt relatively safe.   


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Tell Obama: Turn Shell's Ships Around

Every day brings Shell a little closer to drilling in Arctic waters, home to seals, whales, and polar bears.

With that drilling comes the risk of an oil spill, which could be devastating to the ocean ecosystem and those dependent on it. But it’s not too late—there is still a chance for President Obama to turn Shell’s boats around and insist on good science and demonstrated response technology.

Drilling in the Arctic isn’t like drilling anywhere else. Stormy seas, freezing temperatures, and a lack of infrastructure create a dangerous and possibly deadly trifecta. If an accident occurs, it would be impossible to clean up the spilled oil and keep the water safe for the whales and seals who live there.

Oceana and its partners gathered more than one million signatures seeking good decisions about our Arctic Ocean resources. These signatures are being delivered to the White House today asking President Obama to turn Shell’s ships around and keep the Arctic safe.

But there is still more to do. Today, we’re asking you to call the White House and ask President Obama to stop Shell until we have the science and response capacity needed to make good decisions. We’ve made it easy for you—you can just dial 202-456-1111, or check out our handy form with talking points here. And then let us know how it goes!


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