Climate change and exposure to long-range pollutants are two of the most significant human-caused threats to polar bears. Today, the polar bear population is exposed to significant toxins, and their position as a top predator is creating a negative ripple effect throughout the food chain. Associations between pollution levels and physiological factors, such as hormone and vitamin status and immune function, have been reported in polar bears. It is of major concern that these factors will significantly affect the adaptation of polar bears to a warmer climate in the Arctic. It is feared that the combination of a warmer temperature in the Arctic and high levels of pollutants may cause the extinction of the polar bear.
Planeterra invested $10,000 CAD for polar bear research through the BearHealth initiative at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. This allowed for on-ship lab analysis of 50 polar bears, and funded the fieldwork of one PhD student. Biological variables, such as sex, age, body mass and length were recorded in the lab word. Blood samples were taken for clinical evaluation of polar bear health and to measure the of levels of pollutants. Some of the polar bears were fitted with satellite tracking transmitters allowing researchers to continue collecting data about their habitat use. The project was an international effort involving 15-20 researchers and PhD students participating from universities and governmental research institutions in Norway, Denmark, Canada and Russia.
Through this project, scientists gained access to improved data about the effects of pollutants and toxins on polar bears. This information allows for better decision making as we strive to protect the species against extinction in the face of pollutants, toxins and climate change.
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