Should polar bear hunts be outlawed? | The Tylt
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the polar bear population in certain Alaskan regions experienced a 40 percent decrease between 2001 and 2010. With images of starving polar bears swirling around, these animals have become a symbolic martyr for climate change. Yet, polar bear hunts still take place as part of a long-standing tradition among some indigenous cultures. Some feel these hunts should end to conserve polar bears, while others argue that cultural practices cannot be mandated. What do you think?
Should polar bear hunts be outlawed?
According to the United Nations itself, climate change is the defining issue of our time. The world is at risk of catastrophic flooding in addition to other consequences like extreme weather events and famine. The UN reports:
From 1901 to 2010, the global average sea level rose by 19 cm as oceans expanded due to warming and ice melted. The sea ice extent in the Arctic has shrunk in every successive decade since 1979....
Unless the world makes unprecedented changes in the next decade, sea levels will continue to rise as the global temperature increases and ice melts. Among the many negative effects of this reality is the destruction of polar bears' arctic habitat. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there has been a 40 percent decline in the population of polar bears in northeast Alaska and the Northwest Territories from 2001 to 2010.
“This is a clear warning sign of the impact a warming Arctic has on ice-dependent species like the polar bear,” said Dr. Pete Ewins, WWF’s Senior Species Officer in Canada. “Given this subpopulation is at the edge of the range, it’s no surprise to see this happening so soon.”
Yet, polar bear hunts still take place. Many indigenous peoples hunt polar bears as a part of long-standing traditions–they have been doing so for thousands of years. Although the future of the polar bear is of great concern to many, no one should have the right to take away a cultural precedent from a group of people. According to Polar Bears International:
The Inuit have long considered Nanuq, the polar bear, to be wise, powerful, and almost human. Of all the animals they traditionally hunted, these powerful bears were the most prized.
Subsistence hunters rely on polar bears for both food and clothing. They use the fur to make warm trousers and kamiks (soft boots).
Polar bear hunts are part of a subsistence lifestyle, and hunters treat the animals with great respect and admiration. In years past, hunters even hung polar bear skins in their home for days as a way to show respect for the animal's spirit.
Many have seen the tragic National Geographic video of the starving polar bear, lying down for what is likely his final breath in the midst of an iceless home. In the video, the emaciated bear drags his atrophied legs behind him and rummages for food to no avail. When asked about his experience witnessing this tragedy, wildlife photographer Paul Nicklen said that he "filmed the bear's slow, beleaguered death because he didn't want it to die in vain."
"When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like. Bears are going to starve to death," said Nicklen. "This is what a starving bear looks like."
With images like this swirling around, it's hard to imagine anyone killing one of these creatures intentionally. According to National Geographic:
Climate change is heating up the Arctic faster than anywhere else, and sea ice is shrinking 14 percent per decade... In the late spring, the ice is breaking up sooner and forming later in the fall, forcing bears to burn huge amounts of energy walking or swimming long distances to get to any remaining ice. Or they stay on land longer, spending the summer and, increasingly, the fall fasting, living off their fat from the seals they caught in the spring.
According to The Guardian's Leyland Cecco, polar bears are now posing a threat to the Intuit people. Although scientist and the Intuit disagree on why an increased number of polar bears are coming closer to human populations (researchers say that climate change is pushing polar bears closer to human settlements, while the Intuit are not questioning ice conditions in the same way), they both agree the number of polar bears roaming the Canadian Arctic is a problem. Gabriel Nirlungayuk, an Inuk hunter of Rankin Inlet, offers one solution:
The polar bear hunt remains a critical and lucrative component of life in the northern communities. Hunters can receive as much as $10,000 for pelts, with residents parcelling up and sharing the meat for food. Canada has long resisted legislation that would terminate the harvest.
According to Nirlungayuk, maintaining the tradition of polar bear hunts comes down to safety:
“We want to enjoy being out on the land with our families. But today, people need to carry a rifle all the time just to enjoy the great outdoors.”