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The plight facing polar bears in Manitoba and beyond

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It’s Polar Bear Week and experts are using the occasion to celebrate the animal and educate the public about the plight facing polar bears.

For many years now, researchers have been monitoring polar bears in Churchill, Man., and the western Hudson Bay. According to Evan Richardson, a polar bear research biologist, this is the first population to show signs of the impact of climate change in terms of “reductions in the availability of sea ice habitats.”

“In years when the ice melts really early, the bears have less time to feed. They come ashore in lower body condition,” he said in an interview with CTV Morning Live.

“In those early melt years, the ice actually usually forms later, so they have this extended period they have to go with these limited body reserves that they’re able to put on. We see relationships between body condition and survival of bears here in western Hudson Bay.”

Richardson added that these climate change issues are also prevalent in other parts of the Arctic, the Beaufort Sea, Alaska, the southern Hudson Bay and James Bay.

“These are all signals that reductions in the availability of habitat for polar bears are really starting to impact the species,” Richardson said.

Another issue facing polar bears has to do with sharing the same area as humans.

Alysa McCall, staff scientist and director of conservation outreach at Polar Bears International, said that when polar bears spend more time on land, they get hungrier and come into communities.

“This is not safe for communities or for polar bears,” she said.

“That’s one thing we’re really focusing on during Polar Bear Week is furthering this human-polar bear coexistence, looking for solutions and help that we can offer communities around the Arctic.”

McCall said researchers expect to see more polar bears travelling quite inland as they follow their noses to find food.

She said experts are spreading education and awareness about how to stay safe around polar bears, teaching about managing attractants, and using radar technology to give communities early warnings of approaching bears.

Polar Bear Week runs until Nov. 5.

- With files from CTV’s Rachel Lagace.

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