Friday, October 23, 2015

Science is not above reproach

Protect the Polar Bear

Polar bear suffering from abusive science

A sad image of a starving polar bear went viral a few months ago. This shocking image came to my attention a couple of days ago. It shows a MALE polar bear being wounded, suffocated, by a collar device. The photo is less than 2 weeks old. It is from the east Alaskan part of the coast of the Southern Beaufort Sea.

I have had confirmation that the USFWS are aware of this bear and its predicament. According to my sources, they are ”monitoring the bear”. Word is that the bear does not belong to a USFWS program, it has been collared under a Canadian regime.
Generally, only polar bear females are collared. Males develop much thicker necks and have the potential to either pull the collars off over their heads (if they are loose enough) or get strangled by the collars (if they are tight enough).

A timed self-release device that allows the collars to fall off before the male polar bears get problems from them is apparently the reason behind a program to experimentally put collars on males in the Southern Beaufort Sea – a methodology used by only one senior polar bear researcher.

Also female polar bears routinely suffer from their collars and from the human handling associated with putting them on. Scientists are well aware of this. They have even among themselves coined the term “stinker” for bears with collars that cause such gross inflammation and infection that they smell very bad upon renewed human contact!
The invasive methods used in polar bear science are a general problem. Self-restraint, and a respectful approach to individual bears, is a universal scarcity in polar bear science. Clearly, the chase/sedate/handle/collar methods are traumatic. With male polar bears, collaring is a failure. Whether it is due to failed release mechanism, or to bad programming of the timers, the result is suffocating bears. The photographer of this particular bear, and other sources, assure me that this is not a unique case. 

Polar bears are in dire straits already – due mostly to over hunting and sea ice melting. The Southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation of polar bears has been dramatically crashing in recent years, and the continued utterly unsustainable hunting on both the Canadian and US sides of the border is driving the subpopulation towards extirpation. The management and “conservation” of polar bears is already a disgrace. The last thing these bears need is additional casualties due to scientific experiments.

The USFWS says they do not have funds to save this bear right now. Really? Well, someone needs to take responsibility for their actions. Canada? In the meantime, the polar bear suffers.

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