Environment
5:38 pm
Tue February 26, 2013

Today: Scientists to Discuss Wildlife and Climate Change on International Polar Bear Day

Andrew Derocher

Wednesday is International Polar Bear Day, and the Louisville Zoo and WFPL are marking the occasion with a panel discussion about wildlife and climate change. The panelists include:

  • Andrew Derocher, Ph.D., Polar Bear Scientist and Professor of Biology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada
  • Keith Mountain, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair of Geography and Geosciences at the University of Louisville
  • Jim Maddy, President and CEO of Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
  • Maria Koetter, Director of Sustainability, Metro Louisville 
  • John Walczak, Louisville Zoo Director

Derocher will also give a public lecture Wednesday night at Bellarmine University. He’s one of the authors of a recent paper that urges policymakers to create a worst case scenario plan for polar bears, because climate change is rapidly shrinking the animal’s native habitat.

Listen to an interview with Andrew Derocher.

Sea ice is melting, and polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt seals. Derocher says reduced sea ice means reduced hunting—and lower body weights and fertility.

“Our concern is a single bad year now could be a catastrophe for some of these populations,” he said. “Where we could easily see upwards of 30, 40 or even half of the bears dying in a single year.”

And the future doesn’t look good. Derocher says the sea ice is melting earlier in the year and freezing later—and the trends will probably continue.

“We’ve already seen the breakup advance—so it melts earlier in the spring—by about 3 to 4 weeks and freezeup is already about a month later than it was back in the 1980s and 1970s,” he said.

Derocher’s paper highlights the need for an emergency plan to deal with polar bears and climate change. None of the options are perfect—scientists could do nothing, relocate polar bears, or temporarily feed them for awhile. But Derocher says if the ice disappears for two long, polar bears will disappear, too.

“The current best predictions we have from U.S. research is basically two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will be gone by mid-century if we see the current loss of sea ice we’re seeing now,” he said.

The panel discussion about climate change and polar bears in WFPL's studio is at 4 p.m. today. The event is free, but seating is limited. Please email your name and number of seats to LouisvilleZoo@louisvilleky.gov to RSVP.