It may be the latest evidence of global warming: Polar bears are drowning.
Scientists for the first time have documented multiple deaths of polar bears off Alaska, where they likely drowned after swimming long distances in the ocean amid the melting of the Arctic ice shelf. The bears spend most of their time hunting and raising their young on ice floes.
In a quarter-century of aerial surveys of the Alaskan coastline before 2004, researchers from the U.S. Minerals Management Service said they typically spotted a lone polar bear swimming in the ocean far from ice about once every two years. Polar-bear drownings were so rare that they have never been documented in the surveys.
But in September 2004, when the polar ice cap had retreated a record 160 miles north of the northern coast of Alaska, researchers counted 10 polar bears swimming as far as 60 miles offshore. Polar bears can swim long distances but have evolved to mainly swim between sheets of ice, scientists say.
While the government researchers won't speculate on why a climate change is taking place in the Arctic, environmentalists unconnected to the survey say U.S. policies emphasizing oil and gas development are exacerbating global warming, which is accelerating the melting of the ice. "For anyone who has wondered how global warming and reduced sea ice will affect polar bears, the answer is simple -- they die," said Richard Steiner, a marine-biology professor at the University of Alaska.
The environmental group Greenpeace began airing a 30-second commercial yesterday in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and other cities showing an animated adult polar bear and a cub on a cracking ice floe. The two bears, nowhere near land, slip underneath the water. "Polar bears may soon be extinct because of global warming," the voice-over states. It ends with "Global Warming: It's the Real Thing," a takeoff of a Coca-Cola Co. commercial featuring polar bears.
Of course, the right-leaning Wall Street Journal had to give equal time to the people who say global warming has nothing to do with emissions of greenhouse gases. Shame!