Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Polar Bears in Iceland

I have been asking the locals about polar bears since I see they have t-shirts for sale with a picture of a polar bear on it.  Rest assured, there are no polar bears in Iceland...
Due to global warming – yes this term is used in Iceland and it is understood like it is in the United States – polar bears have been showing up in Iceland more and more regularly.  Iceland is technically too far south for polar bears to live (if you can believe it since Iceland is on the fringe of the Arctic Circle).  During the winter, when the ice flows start breaking free and sailing south, polar bears north of this area end up with a one way ticket to Iceland. 

There have been 3 polar bears arriving in Iceland in the past 5 years.  This is a very high rate for Icelanders who are used to going generations between polar bear sightings.  These bears arrive tired and weak from their journey typically without food and with some swimming involved to make landfall.  The polar bears that arrive here are shot right away.  It is cruel, but Iceland has a very delicate ecosystem here.  It is not set up for a large predator like the polar bear which would require a minimum of about a sheep per day.  The farmers can not afford that withdrawal, especially if it comes from one or two farms until the sheep population is decimated.  In addition, Iceland has no real “scary” predators and this one scares the Icelandic people.  Its only "predator" is an arctic fox which is about the size of a smaller dog and the rest come from the sea. 

There have been talk about relocating the stranded polar bears to the zoo in Reykjavik, but the cost is prohibitively high; if they could afford it they do not have the space necessary for such a large creature.

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