Polar Bears Hunted in Dwindling Habitat

By on May 23, 2007 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Make no mistake about it. Global warming is an animal protection issue. 

Harp seal on ice pan during Canada's seal hunt

© The HSUS/Milani

Before the first club was swung, or the first shot fired this spring in Atlantic Canada in the annual orgy of seal killing, the Canadian government estimates that as many as 300,000 baby seals drowned because of melting ice. The vulnerable little creatures—though they are designed for life in a marine environment—cannot swim in their first few weeks of life. When the ice melted, they haplessly slid into the ocean and succumbed. 

The body count was staggering—about as many seals killed by the warmer climate as are killed by the sealers themselves. It’s a wake-up call to us as individuals and to the entire humane community about the effects that greenhouse gases are having on wildlife. 

We cannot leave the battle on global warming only to our environmental brethren. The humane community must weigh in and stand shoulder to shoulder with them in working to slow and eventually stop human-caused warming.

The plight of the seals shows us that the debate over global warming is not an abstraction. It’s a real process, and it’s deadly for the animals we care about.

Perhaps the most iconic species for global warming is the polar bear—these awesome creatures so extraordinarily adapted to survive in a marine environment in the Arctic. We are all thunderstruck as we see footage of them skittering on thin ice or clinging precariously to a small and shrunken iceberg in a vast ocean, where they seem almost stranded at sea. They adapted to the arctic environment, but that environment is changing too fast for them.

Polar bear and cub walking on ice pans
© iStockphoto

The Fish and Wildlife Service has made a preliminary finding that polar bears should now be listed as “threatened” with extinction. Scientists report polar bears are having a harder time hunting seals because of melting ice, and they have reported drops in body weights and increased mortality.

And while global warming is the greatest threat to the polar bears, they also face peril from other human actions. It’s hard to believe, but trophy hunters are still killing polar bears in Canada. And most of the trophy hunters are Americans, who purchase hunting rights from natives in the north of Canada.

The American trophy hunters are enabled by a loophole in the Marine Mammal Protection Act that allows them to import their trophies into the United States. The Safari Club International—a hunting advocacy group that promotes competitive trophy hunting throughout the world, even of rare species, through an elaborate awards program—punched a hole in the MMPA in 1994 to allow the imports of polar bear trophies. The imports had previously been banned since 1972. 

Polar bear and cub in snow
© Warren Garst

The HSUS aims now to close this loophole and restore the MMPA protections for polar bears. Representatives Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) and Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) have introduced companion bills, H.R. 2327 and S. 1406, to restore the import ban for polar bear trophies (take action on this bill). According to Rep. Inslee ‘s press statement, “In the last 10 years, over 800 polar bears have been killed by hunters to decorate American homes.”

It is unthinkable for most empathetic people to shoot these extraordinary creatures for their heads and hides for the purpose of mounting a trophy. But to do so now, when polar bears are stressed from the effects of warming, and already struggle for survival at the razor’s edge of life in the rapidly changing Arctic environment, is just reckless and selfish.

If the trophy hunters won’t lay down their weapons, the Congress should do it for them.

Humane Society International, Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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