The Blog Aquatic » polar bears News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Tribute to Mothers: A Look at the Ocean’s Great Moms Fri, 10 May 2013 21:25:27 +0000 Jim Wintering


Every year around Mother’s Day I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have both a mother and grandmother who have been there to guide me during the challenging times in life. Recently, this got me thinking that there are probably tons of examples of great mothers in the ocean who are similarly there for their children over the years. So whether you’re a mother yourself or you completely forgot it was that time of year and you need to rush to the store today, take a minute to celebrate Mother’s Day with us and read on to find out more about some awesome ocean mothers:

Manatee mothers show a tremendous dedication to their offspring that starts with nursing within a few hours of giving birth. Their calves are usually weaned within a year, but these mothers typically stick around for up to two years, and are often found right alongside their calves. Mother manatees actively block predators by swimming in between the calf and any potential threat. Furthermore, manatee mothers not only provide their children with nutrition, but also teach them about feeding areas and preferred travel routes.


Some parents are incredibly protective of their children, and a perfect example of that would be walrus mothers. These moms defend and protect their calves intently, and are known to shelter their young from danger under their chest. They also will carry their calves on their backs as they swim through the water. There is even some evidence that walrus mothers may care for orphan calves, showcasing their awesome care-taking abilities.

In the case of of orcas, or killer whales, mothers not only provide for their children in youth, but are there for them well into adulthood. Studies have shown that when a killer whale’s mother is around, it significantly increases the young’s chances of survival. Killer whales can live into their 90s, but females stop reproducing in their 30s or 40s, which similar studies point to as indicating that having an older female around improves the chance of survival for all of her descendants.

Polar bear mothers typically give birth to twin cubs who stay by their mother’s side for more than two years as these mothers protect their children from the fierce elements of the Arctic, while also teaching them valuable survival skills, including how to hunt for food. These great mothers of the North raise the cubs on their own, and are known for aggressively defending their young until they have matured enough to take care of themselves.

If you’re looking for an ocean mother who makes huge sacrifices for her young, an octopus might be your best bet. Octopus mothers lay 50,000-200,000 eggs and take time to group them in the best manner possible. The mother then spends this incubation period doing everything that she can to protect the eggs from predators. She’ll do so at the expense of her own health, being so devoted as to stop hunting for her own food, which often leaves her too weak to even survive after the eggs hatch.


The ocean is full of great mothers capable of reminding us of all of the sacrifices that moms around the world make for their children. With that in mind, we at Ocean Conservancy would like to express our gratitude to all mothers out there, and wish them a Happy Mother’s Day, whether they live in the ocean or back at home in places throughout America and around the globe.

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Plastics Have Reached the Final ‘Away’: the Arctic Mon, 26 Nov 2012 17:33:37 +0000 Nick Mallos When you think of the Arctic, you probably think of a pristine area largely untouched by human hands. But even though few people get a chance to see the Arctic firsthand, that’s not stopping our trash from making the journey.

Plastic in the water is the last thing the Arctic needs right now. This past summer, Arctic sea ice melted to its smallest size in the history of satellite measurement. Each year, the amount of Arctic ice (or lack thereof) during summer months stirs up conversations about the health of Arctic ecosystems and potential implications for our global ocean. But Arctic ice is not the only barometer of ecosystem health; instead, we must also take a critical look at what’s below the icy water’s surface.

A recent study published by deep-sea scientists, Dr. Melanie Bergmann and Dr. Michael Kalges from HGF-MPG Group for Deep-Sea Ecology and Technology of the Alfred Wegener Institute, in the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin reveals the sea floor in Arctic deep sea has become increasingly encumbered by ocean trash and plastic pollution. Using photographs of the sea bed taken at a water depth of 2500 meters every 30 seconds, Bergmann and Kalges found the amount of trash, primarily plastics, on the Arctic seafloor has more than doubled in the past decade. Almost 70 percent of the plastic litter researchers encountered had come into contact with deep-sea organisms, including sponges entangled in plastic bags and plastic fragments colonized by sea anemones. The extent of these interactions between deep-sea organisms and plastics are not fully known.

“The Arctic Ocean and especially its deep-sea areas have long been considered to be the most remote and secluded regions of our planet,” notes Bergmann. She goes on to explain that as Arctic sea ice continues to decrease, natural barriers that have typically kept wind-blown trash and ship traffic out of the Arctic will also decrease, yielding a more vulnerable Arctic ecosystem.

For many, the Arctic is a place that induces thoughts of polar bears, seals and glaciers that span for as far as the eye can see; the final frontier. The truth is, we are only beginning to understand the implications of deteriorating marine ecosystems—especially the Arctic—yet we continue to introduce new threats that challenge the resiliency of the ocean. Over the past decade, the majority of attention surrounding ocean trash and plastic pollution has focused largely on the North Pacific Gyre. But plastic pollution is everywhere, and the findings of Bergmann and Kalges on the Arctic seafloor accentuates the fact that ocean trash has infiltrated all reaches of planet Earth, from the middle of the ocean to Mount Everest.

We cannot continue to throw our trash ‘away’ because time and time again we are reminded that there is no away. From Midway Atoll to the middle of the ocean, I have seen ubiquitous presence of plastics. And while debate continues over whether plastics ever truly breakdown in the marine environment, the proliferation of plastics in the Arctic confirms one thing: plastics do not go away.

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Is it really too late for polar bears? Mon, 07 May 2012 16:56:17 +0000 Catherine Fox

Credit: Alaska FWS

Unlike some of my Ocean Conservancy colleagues, I’ve never traveled to the Arctic, never felt awe in the presence of marine animals like polar bears while working to protect them and their frozen haunts.

But I’ve read plenty of riveting accounts, and see spectacular photos and videos of polar bears languishing on the ice, or plunging into frigid seas to swim incredible distances. I’ve been drawn to the irresistible antics of their cuddly cubs, and awed by the terrible, beautiful power of one male charging another that dares move in on his mate.

I don’t need to visit the Arctic to support my conviction: The world needs polar bears. To me, it’s just a matter of faith. The planet would be bereft without these majestic icons. But we may be facing a world without them. What can we do?

It’s a conversation we don’t want to have, but we must. Polar bears simply can’t survive in the wild without the broad expanses of sea ice where they hunt, bear young and rest. Right now, they are walking on thin ice – or none at all.

As climate change rapidly melts this essential habitat right out from under their huge paws (by 2030 sea ice could be nearly gone in summer), one option may be to preserve the species in zoos through breeding programs aimed at preserving the gene pool.

Abhorrent. That’s the word that comes to mind when I contemplate relocating wild polar bears to zoo enclosures. In fact, U.S. law currently prohibits the importation of polar bears for public display.

But we may be reaching the point of no return when it comes to climate change impacts the Arctic. Will it come to that, the wild with no wild polar bears?

Give a listen as Juliet Eilperin of “The Washington Post” and Dr. Jeffrey Bonner, president and CEO of the St. Louis Zoo, talk with NPR about “walking hibernation,” why these great white bears can’t survive on land, and how zoos could help save them.

Drastic situations call for drastic measures. We should be doing all we can to reduce our collective carbon footprint so these marvelous creatures can thrive.

We’ve learned it’s not about just one species. These bears are emblematic of an entire ecosystem that supports a complex web of life, from tiny krill to walruses, seals, sea birds and whales.

When you listen to the sobering conversation noted above, I hope, like me, you’ll ask yourself: “What can I do today to give Arctic wildlife like polar bears a fighting chance?” Let us know your thoughts about this in the comments below.

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“To The Arctic” and Drilling in Alaska Mon, 23 Apr 2012 22:08:23 +0000 Andrew Hartsig

To the Arctic follows a polar bear mother and her two cubs through a changing world. Image from MacGillivray Freeman Films.

Arctic drilling may not seem like something that affects most of us. After all, when was the last time you had a chance to dive into icy Arctic waters with walruses or follow polar bears across vast stretches of sea ice? But now, you can experience the Arctic from the comfort of a theater seat with “To the Arctic,” a new IMAX® movie by MacGillivray Freeman.

The film, narrated by Meryl Streep, follows a polar bear and her two cubs as they make their way through the rugged Arctic landscape. Along the way, you’ll see amazing images of our rapidly changing world, including stunning footage of wildlife, sweeping stretches of tundra, ghostly northern lights, and sculpted icebergs dotting the ocean.

But there are some things you shouldn’t see in the Arctic—like offshore drilling rigs. This summer, Shell is planning to drill for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off the north and west coasts of Alaska. Drilling for oil in this region would be incredibly risky. The Arctic Ocean is prone to hurricane-force storms, 20-foot swells, sea ice up to 25 feet thick, sub-zero temperatures and months-long darkness. Do these sound like prime conditions for responding to an emergency?

Exploration drilling—like the drilling proposed by Shell this summer—could be the first step toward rapid and unchecked development in the U.S. Arctic. Even if the initial operations go according to plan, Shell’s exploration drilling will bring increased pollution, noise, and air and vessel traffic to Arctic waters. And of course, things might not go as planned: offshore drilling could lead to a major oil spill that would devastate the Arctic ecosystem, people and wildlife. To date, oil and gas companies haven’t shown that they can effectively clean up a major oil spill in real-world Arctic conditions.

Given the risks, now is not the time to allow exploration drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Instead of giving the green light to drilling in the Arctic, the government should focus on identifying and protecting areas in the ocean that are especially important for wildlife and indigenous people. According to a recent U.S. Geological Survey report, there are still major gaps in our scientific understanding of the Arctic Ocean. We should have a research and monitoring plan designed to fill those gaps before drilling goes forward. And industry operators must demonstrate their ability to respond effectively to a large oil spill in real-world Arctic conditions. We still have a chance to get it right in the Arctic, but we need to slow down, do research, and put in place scientifically sound solutions.

To learn more about the Arctic and the threats it faces, click here. And please take action to protect the Arctic here.

©2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment. All Rights Reserved. IMAX® is registered trademark of IMAX Corporation.

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