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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Grizzlies confront polar bears on Beaufort coast

Originally uploaded by BlogAdmin.
The Anchorage Daily News reports today on new research that shows polar bears and grizzlies are interacting more on the Beaufort Sea coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And the more aggressive grizzlies often come out the winner.

The upshot is another threat to polar bears, the scarcer of the two bruin species. They've already been forced ashore more often due to early melting sea ice, likely caused by global warming. Now they must confront grizzlies who have left their usual inland hunting areas to feed on whale carcasses left behind by native hunters from the village of Kaktovik. Another threat to polar bears is oil development on manmade gravel islands built at Prudhoe Bay.

Bear experts have recently spent hundreds of hours documenting these bear interactions. During the encounters, grizzlies usually succeed in driving polar bears off the whale carcasses. The accompanying photo shows a female grizzly and her two cubs feeding on a whale carcass on Barter Island near Kaktovik in 2003.

Polar bears normally feed mostly on seals that they hunt from floating sea ice.

"There are more bears on the shore for longer periods of time in the fall," said federal wildlife biologist Susi Miller. "It looks like the use of the coastal habitat is increasing, and it may be linked to climate change."

The situation hasn't been helped by native subsistence hunters creating large "whale dumps" along the coast where bones and other waste are left to rot. In effect, they're creating garbage bears just like those that became a problem years ago at garbage dumps in Yellowstone National Park.

In February, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect Alaskan polar bears under the Endangered Species Act.

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