Students Warm Up to Arctic Stories

Middle School students welcomed explorer Ian Sterling last week. Mr. Sterling, who visited the school because of our involvement with the Canadian Geographic Society, has spent over 30 years tracking polar bears through the Arctic and had many stories to share with his eager audience.

“Polar bears are animals exquisitely evolved for life in the Arctic,” says Sterling. The only species of marine bears, polar bears have developed some very unique attributes. For instance, polar bears are able to alter their own metabolism to conserve energy and their paws act like snowshoes, allowing the heavy mammals to walk on thin ice.

“Animals may look big and clumsy, but they can do things very delicately,” said Mr. Sterling, as he showed a slide of a walrus stroking a woman’s face with its whiskers.

During his years in the Arctic, Mr. Sterling and his colleagues caught several thousand polar bears and applied satellite collars in order to track their movements and to see what kind of conditions they are drawn to. Mr. Sterling emphasized the fact that his job doesn’t require a lot of muscle.

“This kind of work can be done by girls or boys,” he says. “If you’re interested in science, exploration or the Arctic, you can pursue it.”

Mr. Sterling also addressed some common misconceptions about polar bears as aggressive and dangerous, explaining that they are generally good-natured and very unlikely to attack anyone. “Most of the hunting that they do involves being still,” he said.

Currently, the world has around 25,000 polar bears, but due to changing conditions in the Arctic, their numbers are extremely threatened. Part of why polar bears are more at risk than other Arctic mammals is that they have a very slow population growth rate of about 2 to 4%, which means any drop in their numbers has a long-term impact.

Mr. Sterling told the students that he liked speaking to young people, because “the future of our world really depends on you.”

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