Mar 12
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Climate Week Species of the Day: Polar bear

This week is Climate Week in the UK, and here at ARKive we thought we’d take the opportunity to highlight some amazing species and the different ways they may be affected by climate change. 

Polar bear image

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus)

Species: Polar bear (Ursus maritimus)

Status: Vulnerable (VU)

Interesting Fact: The polar bear is the largest living land carnivore.

Polar bears show some amazing adaptations to their Arctic life, with their thick fur and non-retractable claws that dig into the snow like ice-picks. Using their heightened sense of smell, they are also able to detect prey that are almost a kilometre away and hidden under a metre of compacted snow. The main prey of the polar bear is the ringed seal, and, to a lesser degree, the bearded seal. Seals are captured when they surface to breathe, or are hunted in their lairs under the snow, where the young seals are nurtured. Polar bears breed from late March to late May, and, after mating, the female polar bear delays implantation of the fertilised egg until mid-September to mid-October. Polar bear cubs are born in a snow den two to three months later, and the female cares for the cubs for around 2.5 years.

Climate Change: The polar bear is dependent on sea ice for its survival, but climate change is causing drastic reductions in the extent of ice cover across the Arctic region. This reduces the polar bear’s access to prey, forcing them to spend more time on land and rely on stored fat reserves. Less food also means bears will give birth to fewer, smaller young.

For more information on climate change, visit ARKive’s climate change pages.

Take part in ARKive’s Creative Climate Change Challenge or find out how you can get involved in Climate Week.

View images and footage of the polar bear on ARKive.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 24
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Join ARKive’s “I’m a polar bear” campaign!

"I'm a polar bear" logo

Date for your diary

February 27th is International Polar Bear Day, a whole day dedicated to raising awareness of this super cool species. The polar bear is dependent on sea ice for its survival, but climate change is causing drastic reductions in the extent of ice cover across the Arctic region, meaning that accessing prey will become more problematic for the polar bear as time goes on.

Polar bear image

The Arctic habitat of the polar bear is under threat

 

Get involved

ARKive polar bear masks

ARKive polar bear masks

Over the next week, help ARKive to raise awareness about one of the world’s most iconic species by saying “I’m a polar bear”!

Join the ARKive team and celebrate in style by making some awesome polar bear masks, take a photo of yourself and then simply post it on the ARKive Facebook wall to show your support.

Then continue to spread the love by changing your Facebook or Twitter profile pictures and sharing your pictures with all your friends!

What else can I do?

Take part in ARKive’s Creative Climate Change Challenge! Using your wild imagination and creative skills, come up with an innovative way to inspire your friends and family to do their bit and act on climate change. Why not make the polar bear your climate change mascot, or browse ARKive’s climate change pages to discover more species affected by climate change such as the leatherback turtle or common clownfish and use them for creative inspiration.

ARKive's Creative Climate Change Challenge logo

Join Polar Bear International’s Bundle Up! campaign, which encourages everyone to turn down their thermostat by 2 degrees. The reduction of carbon footprints could help to save the habitat of the polar bear in the long term. So why not turn the heating down and grab your nearest and dearest for a big bear hug?

*Like* our polar bear page and prepare to be astounded by the amazing collection of photos, videos and facts ARKive has to offer.

Polar bear image

'I'm a polar bear'

 

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Species Text Author Intern.

Dec 19
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Spotlight on: Elizabeth White from the BBC’s Frozen Planet

Dr Elizabeth WhiteIf you enjoyed Frozen Planet as much as we have here at ARKive, you’ll be pleased to hear that the series will be returning to our screens in the form of a Christmas Special, due to air in the UK on the 28 December. With some of our favourite species from the show making an appearance again, including stone-stealing Adélie penguins and adorable polar bear cubs, it looks like this special is not to be missed! Of course, being such huge fans, the team here jumped at the chance to chat to Elizabeth White who worked on the series.

Elizabeth has a degree in Zoology and a PhD in animal behaviour. She has worked for the BBC Natural History Unit for 8 years and was one of the Directors on the Frozen Planet series, specialising in filming marine, people and climate change stories.

ARKive talks to Elizabeth White:

Q: What was your role on the BBC’s Frozen Planet series?

I was Assistant Producer for ‘The Last Frontier’ and ‘On Thin Ice’, and a Director on a variety of sequences across the rest of the series. The Producer’s role is to shape the film – deciding what stories to cover, looking into logistics, budgets and planning and writing the narrative, and as Assistant Producer, you support all of that.  Directing is the fun, in the field bit!  Because of my background, which includes SCUBA diving and underwater filming, I worked on many of the marine stories – from the ice whales to killer whales, and under and around the ice in Russia and Antarctica – and also the ‘people’ films, working with many of the Inuit and Inupiat communities to tell their stories of traditional knowledge and climate change.

Beluga whale photo

Whales such as this beluga, along with bowheads and narwhal, are commonly called ice whales because their lives are intimately linked to the coming and going of the Arctic sea ice

Q: It must be hard to pick just one, but do you have a highlight from your time spent filming?

The Antarctic Peninsula was my absolute favourite place I visited during the making of the series. I went twice, onboard a small yacht called the Golden Fleece, skippered by a veteran Antarctic sailor called Jerome Poncet who has spent 40 years in the region.  The scenery there is absolutely breathtaking, waking up to icebergs, penguins, whales and giant mountain ranges every day was just fantastic. On the second trip we filmed killer whales, and just being around them day by day – and never knowing what to expect next – was absolutely the best adventure I could ever imagine.

Antarctic Peninsula photo

The scenery of the Antarctic Peninsula is absolutely breathtaking

 
Q: And how about any scary moments? There must have been a few!

Not too many… I had a few nights camping in the Arctic imagining the sound of polar bears crunching around my tent!  But the scariest moment for me was almost being mowed down by a cruise ship when we were coming back from Antarctica.  We were miles from anywhere on the convergence, in thick fog with this large dot on the radar coming straight for us. We changed course over and over to avoid it, but it just kept coming towards us. It was like something from a horror film as it got closer and closer on the radar and we turned and turned and held our breath waiting to see where it appeared from and then… suddenly from the gloom came the giant ship’s bow with lots of passengers looking over!  Apparently they thought we were an iceberg and came to have a look at us, but it left all of us feeling somewhat shaken!

Polar bear photo

Is that a polar bear I hear outside?

Q: What was it like being one of the only women on the team?

There were three female directors on the team, but on location it was usual to be the only female – most of our cameramen are male, most of the scientists are male and certainly the Inuit and Inupiat hunters are male. Most of the time it makes no difference at all, but there are odd moments when the differences do show up – for example when you are out on the flat, featureless sea ice and need to take a pee!  You learn not to be too ‘girlie’ – there are definitely no hair dryers when you’re camping in the Arctic and you have to accept weeks without showers. But the experiences make the ‘rough times’ insignificant. Bear in mind that 30 years ago few women got the chance to go to Antarctica, so I count myself lucky to be born at a time where women can do jobs like these.

Arctic photo

There are no home comforts when camping in the Arctic, but the experiences make everything worthwhile

Q: How was it working with the local people?
 
I worked a lot with Inuit and Inupiat people in Canada and Alaska. They are fascinating societies – challenging to work with at times – but I was lucky to meet some very interesting people and experience a lot of their culture. Visiting a real igloo was a highlight for me, and in Barrow Alaska they let me take part in their ‘blanket toss’ ceremony, bouncing me up into the air on the top of a walrus-skin trampoline – a fun but slightly adrenaline-pumping experience!  Some of these cultures are quite misunderstood – many still hunt marine mammals which makes them wary of Westerners who may interfere with their culture. A lot of my job was building trust prior to filming, but once they realised we were not out to attack them, they were usually delighted to share with us the beauty of their environment which they understand better than anyone.

Elizabeth White with friends

Q: The final episode of the series focuses on the changing environment in the polar regions, what’s your take on the impact that climate change is having?
 
It’s an unequivocal fact that the polar regions are changing – we have the satellite record, images of glacier retreat, long-term animal population studies and oral histories which clearly show the differences between now and 30, 50, 100 years ago. In many places the animals are adapting – we visited penguin colonies on the Peninsula which were once Adelies that are now crammed with gentoos, saw fur seals far further south than would have been common before.  Of course not all places are changing at the same rate – the Inuit we worked with in Canada talked about ‘unpredictability’ of their weather and their ice, whereas in Alaska the ice now is consistently thinner, earlier to melt and contains less ‘multiyear ice’ than it did 30 years ago.  The question is going to be about adaptation – how far can certain species go before they are pushed to the brink – and the impact these changes will have on the rest of the planet. 

Adélie penguin photo

The question is, how far can species adapt to their changing environment?

Gentoo penguin photo

Gentoo penguins are now found in colonies traditionally populated by Adélies

 

Q:  And finally, do you have a favourite species from the series?

That’s tricky! I fell in love with a polar bear the first time I saw one and penguins will always have a massive place in my heart. But I guess I would have to say killer whales – mainly because they are so smart, and so little understood, and because, on our film trips, we were contributing towards scientific understanding of them – an exciting thing for a former biologist like myself!  Behavioural and genetic evidence shows there are many different ‘ecotypes’ – potentially different species – of killer whales.  We observed 3 of these different types in Antarctica and, working together with scientists, filmed behaviours which will help contribute towards a better understanding of them. That’s pretty exciting.

Orca photo

The team filmed some incredible killer whale behaviour

If you’ve been inspired to learn more about our polar regions, don’t forget the check out ARKive’s Arctic and Antarctic eco-region pages to find out more about the species found in these extreme environments.

You can also check out the BBC’s Frozen Planet pages for more information about the series, including clips, episode guides and more behind the scenes stories from Elizabeth and her fellow team members.

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

Oct 26
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Frozen Planet – New Series on the BBC

The BBC’s latest nature documentary series, Frozen Planet, will be hitting the screens of viewers in the UK at 9pm tonight. Hailed as the ultimate portrait of Earth’s polar regions, Frozen Planet looks set to transport us to the frozen realms of the Arctic and Antarctic, to reveal the secret lives of the species that call these wild ice worlds home.

Frozen Planet is narrated by Wildscreen patron Sir David Attenborough, who himself travelled to both polar regions in the making of the series. The first episode, “To the Ends of the Earth”, is a journey from the North to the South Pole, across the least known wildernesses on our planet. We hope that you are as excited about the series as we are in the ARKive office, and will enjoy a little taster of what is to come….

The stars of the first episode are likely to be a pair of courting polar bears, who we think will steal the show with their surprisingly tender behaviour. Be prepared for some stunning shots of the giant Greenland ice cap too. 

Polar bear photo

Polar bears play fighting

Greenland icecap photo

The Greenland icecap, where two glaciers join and flow to the sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up, we find humpback whales feeding in the rich polar waters, while on land a large group of wolves attempt to tackle a formidable group of bison. You can check out a video of feeding humpbacks on ARKive, as well as a clip of an Arctic wolf hunting some slightly smaller prey!

 
Humpback whale photo

Humpbacks travel thousands of kilometres from summer feeding grounds in polar waters to winter breeding grounds near the tropics

Arctic wolf

The Arctic wolf is a subspecies of the grey wolf, the world's largest wild canid

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

At the other end of the world we find leaping gentoo penguins trying to evade prowling sea lions, and orcas displaying some spectacular hunting behaviour, possibly caught on film for the first time ever - prepare to be amazed! You can check out our gentoo videos on ARKive too.

Gentoo penguin photo

Masters of the waves, gentoo penguins face a number of predators in the water

Orca photo

The orca is the only cetacean to routinely hunt marine mammals

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
There is plenty more in store too, but I’m afraid you’ll have to watch it tonight - we wouldn’t want to spoil it for you!
 
If you just can’t wait, or the series is not showing where you live, why not check out our new polar eco-region pages, and explore the fantastic array of photographs and footage of all these species and more on ARKive.

Sneak previews, episode guides and behind the scenes stories from the series can all be found on the BBC Frozen Planet page.

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

Mar 24
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Earth Hour – Switch off and act against climate change

There is just 2 days to go until the world unites and switches off in support of Earth Hour 2011 – a symbolic gesture of environmental solidarity that intends to show global leaders we want immediate action in tackling climate change.

This Saturday, 26 March, at 8:30 pm local time, a record number of countries will participate in switching off their lights to pledge their support for Earth Hour 2011. An incredible 131 countries, on all seven continents, as well as thousands of cities and iconic landmarks, are set to join with hundreds of millions of people across the world to celebrate action for the planet.

This year, WWF are asking people to go beyond the hour, and use Earth Hour to commit to an action that they will sustain for the future of our planet. The Nepalese government, for example, has pledged to put an end to tree-felling in the Churiya range – a 23,000 square kilometres forest.

Wildscreen is proud to support Earth Hour 2011, and by spreading the word we hope to raise awareness of climate change and its effects.

Nature’s energy savers

As we struggle to meet our burgeoning population’s energy demand, and strive towards a carbon-neutral future, perhaps we should look to the incredible diversity of life on Earth for inspiration on how to adapt to a changing climate.

Innovations such as solar panels and wind farms may be new technologies to us, but examples of low-energy and energy-efficient lifestyles are abundant in nature. So here are some of my favourite species that have all adopted intriguing examples of how to harness the planet’s energy or cut down on their consumption.

Wind power

With a huge wingspan that is reminiscent of the monstrous blades on a wind turbine, the Eurasian griffon is able to harness the wind’s energy and soar up to heights of 11,000 metres, without a single beat of its wings.

Photo of Eurasian griffon in gliding flight

Solar power

The Galapagos marine iguana is able to make full use of solar power, as it soaks up the sun’s rays by basking on exposed rocks. During its dives into extremely cold water to feed on algae, its temperature decreases by as much as 10ºC. On return to land, it basks for several hours to raise its body temperature to around 36ºC.

Photo of Galapagos marine iguana colony basking in sun

Energy efficiency

A perfect example of energy efficiency, the small giant clam lives in a symbiotic relationship with microscopic algae known as ‘zooxanthellae’. The algae gain carbon dioxide and nutrients from the clam’s waste, while it provides the clam with energy obtained by photosynthesis.

Small giant clam photo

Recycle

When food is hard to find, polar bears conserve energy by occupying a den and breaking down fat and protein stores. They even recycle the metabolic by-products of this process.

Photo of male polar bear in day bed

Hydropower

After hatching, many loggerhead turtle nestlings begin an epic migration around the Atlantic Ocean, using warm water currents, aided by trade winds, to push them towards productive waters.

Loggerhead turtle photo

Make a pledge

If you have a pledge, big or small, then we would love to hear from you. You can also post your pledges on WWF’s Earth Hour 2011, beyond the hour website.

To find out more about climate change and the species it affects, explore our new climate change pages.

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

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