Are the Antarctic Polar Bears Going Extinct?

A few people asked me if I saw any polar bears during my recent trip to Antarctica. No, I didn't...

None? Not even one? Did you even see any prints????

Polar Bears in Antarctica at Digital Rabbit

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I've heard (sorry can't remember where) that a better term for 'global warming' would be global 'weirding' because it will cause floods, draughts, hot summers, cold winters, hurricanes and other manner of weirdness.

Polar bears in the Antarctic could be the first sign.

I am curious whether polar bears could survive in Antarctica. There seem to be plenty of seals, and even penguins to snack on.

Who knows? There may have been a polar-bear like animal, filling that niche, as Antarctica went from being not totally frozen to totally frozen. But, it would not have been a land mammal because I'm pretty sure there were never any mammals in Antarctica. So, it would have evolved from a sea mammal (which had not yet evolved, most likely) or a bird. A giant semi-aquatic kiwi-like, white-"furred" (the feathers would resemble fur) killer with specially adapted feet.

Now ... we need to start looking for the fossils.

It takes hundreds of different species in any given ecology to support a large predator like the polar bear. You don't find many polar bears too far north either since there isn't enough fauna to sustain them. Just think of Antarctica as being a very cold desert.

But if they were kiwis ... that could be a whole 'nuther ball game. But yes, I agree they would most likely go extinct, thus my suggestion that we launch a fossil hunting expedition right now.

Not only is the Antarctic polar bear going extinct, but the Artic penguin and its cousin the Arctic puffin are both very, very rare and hard to find. It's extremely worrisome.

By Albatross (not verified) on 29 Jan 2010 #permalink

Sadly, the Arctic penguin is no longer with us, but there are millions of puffins in Alaska. Killer kiwis might explain the sightings of Nazi yeti in Antarctica. Kiwis do have large feet.

Millions puffin in Alaska? Is this related to the decriminalization of pot?

Okay, I just had an odd thought and this might be a good place to post it.

So let's say the Arctic ice cap is melting and threatening the extinction of the Polar Bears.

Does that threat justify relocating a viable colony of polar bears and seals to the Antarctic, even if doing so threatens to screw up the Antartic ecology>

By Albatross (not verified) on 29 Jan 2010 #permalink


There has never been a transplantation of a species that did not result in disaster.

Before the Antarctic ice cap developed 33 million years ago, there WERE mammals in Antarctica. My former undergrad advisor, Mike Woodburne, found the first fossils, polydolopid marsupials closely related to the native marsupial carnivores that were found in South America at the time, but went extinct when the Panama land bridge allowed North American invaders 3.5 million years ago. The record is very sparse, but those fossils (and the plant fossils) show that the Mesozoic and early Cenozoic Antarctic continent was covered by a cold temperate forest (like that of modern New Zealand), and inhabited by animals of nearby continents like South America. But polar bears evolved relatively late, and only from the Holarctic species of brown bears, and there was no similar taxon in the Southern Hemisphere that could have evolved into polar bears down in Antarctica.


"Never" might be too strong a word. to give one example, the introduction of African dung beetles to Australia seems to be a success (knock on wood).

Ah, right. Tnaks Don, I withdraw my New Zealand Model and switch to the Aussie Model. I was confused.

So a giant white-furred kangaroo hopping between bits of ice and taking out the unwary leopard seals, and probably storing extra penguins in its pouch!!!

There is one other possibility that has not been noted. There was a bear, possibly a coastal bear not too unlike a polar bear or a brown bear in some respects, very carnivorous, very large, and living in South Africa in the late and probably middle Miocene. If a pregnant female floated accidentally across the Southern Sea ....

Stephen, they alaways "seem" like a success but the NEVER are!

Yes, there may be an exception or two out there. I don't accept anything as an exception until it has not fucked anything up for a century. That is a modest amount of time. Sometimes it takes that long for the right mix of circumstances to happen.

Arctic Penguin.
Before the Penguins of the southern hemisphere were known to Europe, the Great Auk was known as the Penguin. And it went extinct sometime around 1844.

So, back to the topic of introduced species . . . how about the introduction of major crops such as wheat, rice, and maize? European grapes to North America and Australia? Apples?

BiPolar Bears?

The Great Auk - the original penguin!

Humans have successfully "transplanted" ourselves many times, and it has often worked out well for the transplanted humans, at least in the long run. For some other living things, it hasn't worked out so well.

There are actually quite a few inadvertent transplantations of living species that do not appear to have caused very serious disruption to the ecosystem that they were introduced into. Every spring and summer, I see plenty of wildflowers and weeds that originally came from Europe and Asia - dandelions, Queen Anne's lace, bluegrass, white clover being 4 common examples. Also, I've read that most of the earthworm species in the northeastern USA are actually originally from Europe, perhaps brought in ship's ballast. For that matter, there were no honeybees in North America before Europeans brought them. On the other hand, some introduced species have had a real detrimental impact on native species - the fungi that causes Chestnut blight and Dutch Elm disease, gypsy moth caterpillars, starlings, Bittersweet and Japanese Knotweed (two invasive plants), really can cause a lot of damage. Sometimes, though, the best way to control invasive species appears to be "biological control", which means controlling invasive introduced species by bringing in predators or parasites or diseases that reduce the populations of the intruders. This can work VERY well because often the reason that the introduced species are so incredibly successful, to the detriment of native species, is that in being transplanted they have left behind the other organisms that preyed on them in one way or another, and none of the native species are adapted to the task. It can also be a huge risk, because the introduced predator/parasite/disease organism might also prove harmful to native organisms - it might hurt them more than it hurts the invader. That's why today they don't try introducing "biological control" organisms until they have studied their interaction with the local environment for years. So, not all introduced species necessarily have a negative impact on the native environment - in carefully controlled cases, they can even help.

Sorry to break out into lecture mode - you might already know all of this stuff. It's just that I find the whole topic of introduced species and invasive species fascinating.

Paul: Here in Minnesota we are experiencing a virtual mass extinction of many native forest plants because of the earthworms.

Antarctica = anti + arktos (arktos = bear in Greek); hence, etymologically "antarctica" means "no bears," which is the opposite of the arctic, which contains bears. I just learned that derivation a few years ago.

(and I learned at age 33 that AC/DC was not from New Jersey but from Australia)

Paul: Here in Minnesota we are experiencing a virtual mass extinction of many native forest plants because of the earthworms.

Damn - I had no idea about that. I've read quite a bit about invasive plants and animals, but never seen anything about earthworms being harmful until I started googling after reading your response.

OK, can't count earthworms as non-harmful, then, but there are still some introduced organisms that seem to blend into the existing environment pretty well without any serious negative effect on the native species. Overall, though, I agree that there's probably been enough damage already that people shouldn't be going out of their way to transplant even more species from one part of the world to another.

My spouse does research in the Antarctic, and often gives slideshows about it in elementary schools. The most jaw-dropping question came from the school principal one year:

"How will you keep from falling through if the ice melts at the South Pole?" She was under the impression that Antarctica was a massive sheet of sea ice, like the Arctic.

A little off topic (except that I was reminded of it by Don's comment), maybe, but if anyone wants a broad overview of what mammals lived where over the last 63 mya, I strongly recommend Don Prothero's book After the Dinosaurs: The Age of Mammals (Life of the Past) . Covers lots of fascinating animals, and has many well-chosen artists' renderings, maps, line drawings, and diagrams.

THERE ARE NO POLAR BEARS IN ANTARCTICA. Polar bears only live in the arctic (thats on the other side of the planet you no Canada, Russia, etc.) So next time you write something on your half-witted blog try reading a first grade geography book, or maybe gain some common sense.