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6/10 As The Sea Ice Goes, So Goes The Polar Bear

See the 'icebears' while you can...

sunny 65 °F
View Polar Bears of Svalbard on paulej4's travel map.


The world is a topsy-turvy, dynamic and ever-changing place. On May 6, 2019, the New York Times reported that "Over the past five years, the [Arctic] region has been warmer than at any time since 1900, when record keeping began." It went on to point out that scientists say, "The Arctic is heating up far faster than the world average." On the same day, Reuters reported, "Surface air in the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, and the ocean could be ice-free in the summer months within 25 years, according to some researchers."

On that same day in Rovaniemi, Finland, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said (and Time.com reported), "Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new naval passageways and new opportunities for trade, potentially slashing the time it takes for ships to travel between Asia and the West by 20 days.” His comment was greeted with "muted applause" from the foreign ministers of the other members of the Arctic Council — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden. “Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century’s Suez and Panama canals.”

That same melting sea ice may, however, lead to extinction of polar bears in the Arctic. Unlike Canadian polar bears, the bears here swim for their food but they need a place to climb from the water to rest. If there is no ice, there is no place to rest. In addition, if there is no ice, there is eventually no food.


Sea ice is like soil in a farm field. The ice contains tiny invertebrates, viruses and bacteria. Fish consume all of that as food. Seals eat the fish. Polar bears eat the seals. Less sea ice equals fewer polar bears. If the ocean is "ice-free in the summer months within 25 years," it will also be polar bear free within 25 years.

Just as the weather-caused American dust bowl in the 1930s resulted in tens of thousands of abandoned farms, resulting in losses estimated at $450 million in today's dollars, weather-caused diminished sea ice will have an economic and environmental impact on the larger planet. If the ocean is "ice-free in the summer months within 25 years," it will also be polar bear free in a way that Oklahoma became nearly farmer-free by 1940. (There is not room here to comment on rising sea levels resulting from melting polar ice flooding coastal areas. Perhaps on another trip...)

According to Florence Fetterer, principal investigator at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in the US, sea ice is disappearing at an alarming rate.


Today, I'm more than half way to the Svalbard archipelago where the polar bear population exists from Spitsbergen on the west to Russia's Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land on the east, containing the icy waters of the Greenland Sea, Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean. Polar bear sightings are still common east of Spitsbergen near where females give birth to cubs in snow caves. The cubs remain with their mother until they are around two years of age.

I go now to witness, while it is still possible, these amazing creatures, one of the world's largest carnivores--The King of the Arctic--while my destination still is home to an estimated 3,000 of them--more that there are human beings hereabouts. (globally, the estimate is that 25,000 polar bears exist in 19 subpopulations. These are possibly the most threatened.

Polar bear sightings are most common east of Spitsbergen but they can be encountered anywhere in Svalbard. The diet of mother and cub polar bears consists primarily of ringed seal. Ringed seal are the most common seal species in these waters. Since 1973, polar bears have been protected by international law. It is a criminal act to "hunt, lure, pursue, feed or disturb a polar bear." However, destroying their Svalbard habitat appears to not apply. Note that the bears are allowed, apparently, to attack us humans. Since 1971, five humans have been killed by bears. Three bears have been killed annually as a result of threatening encounters with humans.


In April, 2003, an Alaskan polar bear attached the American nuclear Seawolf Class submarine USS Connecticut which had broken through the ice near Prudoe Bay.That is, of course, far from here but was too cool to leave out of this writing.

The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is considered a marine mammal as it spends slightly more than half its life on the drifting sea ice. Prior to beginning research on these bears, I did not understand that polar bears don’t eat much when they are on land. They lose a bit over two pounds a day on land which is where they go to mate, gestate and give birth. In their dens from October or November through March or April, the metabolism of females slows down as they enter a period of “carnivore lethargy,” which is different from deep hibernation. They do not eat during this period and lose most or all of their fat stores. Cubs are born in December and weigh around one-and-a-half pounds. Nursing in the den for three to four months, they grow to a weight of twenty pounds or so. Then, the family leaves the den to find sea ice and hunt seals for food.

When there is less ice as habitat, the bears are forced to spend more time on land which lengthens their fasting period. They arrive ashore in lesser health and that compounds their smaller energy reserve for a week or two or more. If that continues, polar bears will likely become extinct because females do not have enough fat reserves to bear and rear cubs.

It is true that polar bears can and do den offshore but that must occur on ice that is thick and has a lot of snow on top so the bear can dig a den. That tends to be only “multi-year” ice which is already disappearing. Pregnant bears look for a place with lots of snow. On land, that will be on the lee side of a prevailing wind sheltered by an obstacle such as the bank of a lake or stream.

Less sea ice makes them walk further, fast longer and feed for shorter periods on less abundant food. Without abundant food, fat stores cannot be adequately built to sustain the long periods of dormant time.

There are no polar bear safaris so the best chance to see these magnificent creatures is to board an expedition cruise in the Arctic summer which takes people like me to remote parts of the archipelago. I'll be aboard the "spartan" M/S (Motor Ship) Quest--one of 53 guests on this 164-foot-long "Ice Class 1D" vessel. She is not an icebreaker but her upgraded hull is rated to get through ice up to two feet thick. Thicker than that and we'll have to go around. B4 staying home for this adventure. Can you imagine?


Details: Delta from Kansas City to Detroit (from where the initial post came), Detroit to Amsterdam, KLM from Amsterdam to Oslo where I just arrived after my Amsterdam four-hour layover. My main immediate and short-term goal is to rest and catch a few hours of sleep to then hit the road rid of jet lag as soon as possible. I have a long and full day here tomorrow followed by a late night SAS flight to Longyearbyen.

Checking in at the Radisson BLU Plaza hotel, across the street and down a bit from the Oslo Central Railroad Station, the lovely young lady who checked me in, Aneeka, asked me if I needed a late checkout tomorrow and I offered that I would be leaving very late indeed. She asked where and I told her that I had a 9:45pm flight to Longyearbyen, "Oh, you're going to see the icebears!" She reiterated the new name for polar bears in a welcome note. It feels good to be made to feel welcome. And, her name for polar bears seems ever so appropriate.


Home of the Nobel Peace Prize, Oslo is also the site of talks about the future of Venezuela. Two weeks ago, Juan Guaidó, leader of the opposition and self-proclaimed president of Venezuela and representatives of Nicholas Maduro’s Chavismo negotiated the future of that nation in crisis. The talks ended without agreement. About the crisis in Venezuela, The Washington Post reported just yesterday, "Here in the capital (Caracas) on any given afternoon, emaciated teens pick through rotting garbage for food. Children have been abandoned to extended family or orphanages by parents who can no longer afford to keep them. Newborns have been discarded in dumpsters." One hopes the parties return and reach agreement on something; anything at all.

Security is on the mind of Oslonians. Since the right-wing terrorist bombing and attack in 2011, the city has implemented “smart-city” technologies including cameras and heavy-duty bollards to protect against car or truck ramming. Last week, a Russian citizen—possibly under the influence of drugs or psychoactive substances—attacked a Filipino with a knife and was later subdued by police with a stun gun as he wandered through the streets. At the same time, Oslo is hosting a five-year “Oslo Biennale” which celebrates public art and is building a gigantic new National Museum.


A few over a million-and-a-half people live in the metropolitan area, making Oslo the most populous city in Norway. Sitting at the end of the Oslo Fjord, the city is water based consisting of forty islands and 343 lakes surrounded by forests.

Edvard Munch is prominently featured at the Norwegian National Gallery—in particular by his most famous work, “The Scream.” There is the world’s most perfectly preserved Viking Ship at the Viking Ship Museum and the harbor-side Oslo Opera House and more. It is, admittedly, cold averaging 22 degrees in January. Often heard is the logical phrase, “There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing choices.”

The King and Queen live at the Royal Palace, home to their ancestors since 1849. In addition to my favorite park and Vigeland’s work there is the Ekebergparken where you can view sculpture from Dali, Rodin and Renoir and a much more modern work, Skyspace: The Color Beneath, by American James Turrell.

That's my itinerary for tomorrow.

Posted by paulej4 09:59 Archived in Norway

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Off again! Just arrived in Florida from Vegas/Dallas...and you are in or near a place called "Long year byen"!

It really hasn't beyen Long Year....and in about and half byen year...you byen India, Israel and the North Pole!

Blog away my friend in your Snow shoes.....We await your frosty adventure.


by Chuck

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