Updated: Jun 29, 2021
Today is International Polar Bear Day! Polar Bears International, a non-profit organization dedicated to polar bear research and conservation efforts, founded International Polar Bear Day to raise awareness about polar bears and the growing environmental challenges they face. February 27 was declared as International Polar Bear Day because it coincides with the time period during which polar bear mothers stay warm with their growing cubs in dens across the Arctic. As we recognize International Polar Bear Day, read more to learn about polar bears and the ways that we can protect denning polar bear families and their habitat.
What is denning?
Every fall, pregnant female polar bears build snow dens on the sea ice or in snow drifts on land to prepare for the harsh winter months in the Arctic. Throughout December and January, polar bear mothers give birth to their cubs in the safety of their dens. Denning is one of the most vulnerable times in a polar bear’s life, as the new-born cubs weigh about one pound, only have one layer of fur for protection, and cannot see or hear. Maternity dens are critical to cub development since they protect cubs from extreme arctic conditions as their mothers nurse them. After three months in the dens, polar bears will emerge from their dens in the spring when the cubs are strong and healthy enough to withstand arctic conditions.
How does climate change impact denning?
Rising temperatures incited by climate change can impact the ability of polar bears to build and seek safety in dens during the winter months. According to a review article in Nature Geoscience, scientific research has shown that “temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as the global average.” This swift rise in temperatures can lead to declines in both sea ice and snowfall. Ultimately, this change in environmental conditions decreases denning habitat and makes it difficult for polar bears to find suitable areas to build their dens. In one study conducted by Glen Liston at Colorado State University, a climate model projected that polar bear denning habitat on Alaska’s Beaufort Sea Coast could decrease by 94-97% by the end of the century.
What can you do?
Polar Bears International has emphasized that protecting polar bear dens is imperative to ensuring the health and safety of polar bear mothers and their cubs. As an individual, you can seek educational resources to learn more about polar bears and their denning behaviors. Visit Polar Bears International’s website to learn more about polar bears, their den-protection project, and their fundraising “Protect Moms and Cubs Challenge.”
At Seaside Sustainability, we believe that education, advocacy, and hands-on action are fundamental ways that we can protect and conserve the environment. To recognize International Polar Bear Day, we encourage you to help protect polar bears by educating yourself and engaging in conservation efforts. Leave any ideas you have in the comments below!