2011-11-11

Co.Exist

Polar Bears Get Their Own Reality Show

A new program lets you watch the annual migration through hidden cameras secreted along the Arctic ice. See them before they all get voted off the island.

Few people will ever see a polar bear. Nor will they swim with a beluga whale, or encounter even a fraction of the thousands of species predicted to go extinct as the Earth continues losing habitat faster than anytime during the last 65 million years. As it’s hard to save what you don’t know, conservation organizations are fighting to tie the plight of faraway species to the daily lives and politics of everyone back in the busy modem world.

One of the most innovative attempts is showing right now: live-streaming the annual polar bear migration in Canada. Cameras have been installed by explore.org, Polar Bears International and Frontiers North on its bear-tracking tundra buggy, and nearby lodge, allowing anyone to watch polar bears, as well as see the effects of climate change in their midst.

The webcams are the first in an initiative by Explore.org called "Pearls of the Planet" to bring people closer to wild creatures and locales around the world. "The goal is to help people fall in love with the world around them," writes Jason Damata, a spokesperson for Explore.org. Partners such as CNN and National Geographic have signed up to distribute the content, and more than 10,000 websites have embedded the video feed, with millions of people viewing the bears from all over the world.

So far, prime-time programming is in Churchill, Manitoba, along the shores of Canada’s Hudson Bay, where about 1,000 polar bears are gathered to wait for the sea to freeze before venturing onto the ice to hunt seals. The live feeds are here. But the bears have been waiting longer and longer each year--20 more days than in 1980--as the sea ice returns later and melts earlier. During that time, the bear population in Western Hudson Bay has dropped by 22% .

"The main goal of the cam is to provide a window into the polar bear’s world to inspire people to care about them," writes Barbara Nielsen Director of Communications for Polar Bears International. "Viewers have been surprised to see that it’s November and there’s only a dusting of snow on the tundra and no sign of ice on Hudson Bay. In the '80s, the bears were often back on the ice by now, hunting seals, and certainly by mid-November. Freeze-up now arrives weeks later. The longer and longer ice-free seasons are straining the limits of this population’s fat reserves."

The U.S. Geological Survey projects that two-thirds of polar bears will disappear by the year 2050 as the planet warms under the influence of record amounts of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere. For now, however, there is the polar bear migration and the possibility that the climatic changes underway can be slowed. Perhaps we have to see it to believe it. The migration will last between October through the end of November.

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