Arctic expedition to highlight global warming brings guns to fight off polar bears

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

In an effort to highlight the effects of global warming, an Irish-Canadian team plans to cross the arctic’s Northwest Passage in a rowboat while armed with rubber bullets to ward off polar bears.

The team will also carry shotguns to kill the animals if necessary.

“They are the only animal out there that will actively hunt down a human being,” said seasoned adventurer Kevin Vallely, who is part of the rowing expedition which will take about 80 days and traverse the distance between Inuvik in Canada’s Northwest Territories and Pond Inlet, Nunavut.

Climate Central reports that: “The crew will carry sound as well as rubber bullets to try to scare the bears off — with a shotgun as the last order of defense – in the event they are forced to beach and encounter an animal on land.”

Despite being the poster child for species affected by global warming, the polar bear is the king of the arctic and has no natural predator. The bears can range in weight from 900 pounds to 1,600 pounds and can reach sizes of up to 8 feet in length.

Though polar bear attacks on humans are reportedly rare, National Geographic notes: “Polar bears are attractive and appealing, but they are powerful predators that do not typically fear humans, which can make them dangerous. Near human settlements, they often acquire a taste for garbage, bringing bears and humans into perilous proximity.”

According to Polar Bears International, polar bear attacks on humans are rare and almost are always the result of the bears being “undernourished, frightened or provoked.” In the last 30 years, only eight people have been killed by polar bears in the U.S. and Canada.

“Obviously, our main strategy is going to be to avoid the polar bear,” said Paul Gleeson, an Irish rower and cyclist who is also going on the journey.

Polar bears were added to the Endangered Species List because of global warming and were classified as “threatened” in May 2008. However, today there are as many as 25,000 polar bears worldwide, far more than there were four decades ago.

“There are far more polar bears alive today than there were 40 years ago,” author Zac Unger told NPR in an interview about his new book, “Never Look a Polar Bear in The Eye.” “There are about 25,000 polar bears alive today worldwide. In 1973, there was a global hunting ban. So once hunting was dramatically reduced, the population exploded.”

Polar bear hunting is banned in the U.S., but Alaska Natives can hunt polar bears to serve tribal needs. There are also import restrictions on polar bears and polar bear parts or products.

The U.S. has teamed up with other countries, including the Russian Federation, as part of an international effort to protect the bears.

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