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Polar bears spotted swimming in open seas

Government scientists patrolling the skies off Alaska's northwest coast say they observed nine polar bears swimming in open water, prompting some environmentalists to raise concerns about the species' survival in a warming world.

By Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor / August 22, 2008

A polar bear swims in subarctic water in Wager Bay Nunavut near Hudson Bay, Churchill area, in northern Canada.

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Scientists patrolling the skies off Alaska's northwest coast say they observed nine polar bears swimming in open water, prompting some environmentalists to raise concerns about the species' survival in a warming world.

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According to the Associated Press, the number indicates "an increase from previous surveys."

The bears were spotted on a flight over Alaska's Chukchi Sea by a federal marine contractor, Science Applications International Corp., that was looking for whales. The contractor was hired by the Minerals Management Service in advance of future offshore drilling for oil.

One of the bears was seen swimming at least 60 miles from the shore.

The WWF quotes Geoff York, the polar bear coordinator for the advocacy group's Arctic Programme, who says that polar bears that stray too far from land are at risk of drowning, especially if there is a storm.

“To find so many polar bears at sea at one time is extremely worrisome because it could be an indication that as the sea ice on which they live and hunt continues to melt, many more bears may be out there facing similar risk,” he said.
“As climate change continues to dramatically disrupt the Arctic, polar bears and their cubs are being forced to swim longer distances to find food and habitat.”

The Arctic has been rapidly losing ice in recent years. In October 2007, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that the loss of ice "shattered all previous records." Currently, the NSIDC describes the ice extent as having "sharply quickened" in early August.

Polar bears use Arctic Ice as a platform for hunting, and sea-ice reduction forces them to swim longer distances.

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