Zeus the mini 'polar bear' poodle. Photo of Zeus by Ryan Peterson 2012, photo of polar bear by Susan van Gelder\Flickr.
As we continue to celebrate National Wildlife Week it was also brought to my attention that today is National Puppy Day. For some of us, our love for wildlife is coupled with a love for pets, whether cat, fish, dog or mouse. Though it’s important to remember that wildlife are not pets and pets are not wildlife, pets might be our first at-home interaction with animals and may help to foster that drive to protect all forms.

I am personally inspired by all sorts of wildlife but especially polar bears, and I wonder if it is a coincidence that my new puppy Zeus kind of resembles a polar bear. What do you think?

Viewing Polar Bears with an Amateur Camera and Healthy Respect

Zeus reminds me to tell the story of my first, and likely only, viewing of polar bears in the wild. About a decade ago, I was lucky enough to participate in an impromptu polar bear viewing in Barrow, Alaska.

Barrow, Alaska is the northernmost city in the United States, about 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle. I was there in the summertime as part of a larger project to help the city of Barrow adapt to climate change.

Summer Ice in the Chukchi Sea. Photo by Melinda Koslow 2001.
The summer of 2001 was an especially cold summer for Barrow, and that meant that the sea ice was still quite prevalent at the shore. That also meant that polar bears hadn’t quite left the area yet as they often do to follow the ice (and yummy seal meals) north.

A local Barrowite asked us if we’d like to partake in a trip to the point of Barrow, where he knew polar bears liked to congregate. Thankfully I had a basic camera and a will to experience. That was all I needed. We jumped at this once-in-a-lifetime chance.

He piled us into a all-terrain vehicle reminding us that it is important to carry a healthy respect for the world’s largest land carnivore. In other words, no getting out of the car, and definitely no feeding or attempts to cuddle the polar bears!

Polar bears on Chukchi Sea Ice near Barrow, Alaska. Photo by Melinda Koslow 2001.
Within minutes of being on the point, we were surrounded. Our hearts pumped so loud from joy – and a bit of fear – that the whole vehicle shook. We were humbled by their power, size and beauty, but also their vulnerability. We were humbled by their presence in general.


Barrow, Alaska. Photo by Melinda Koslow, 2001.
Polar Bears, Point Barrow, Alaska. Photo by Melinda Koslow 2001.
Our day ended rather abruptly as the bears began to notice us or the vehicle or both. Either way knew it was best not to test their territory. A curious young bear (seen here) started to slowly approach us. And though we wanted to say hi, that’s simply not a good idea.

It is important to have a large amount of respect whenever viewing wildlife in the wild.

As Sea Ice Diminishes

As we took in the experience we realized that regardless of their immense power and size – and ability to survive in both water and land in frigid temperatures – that opportunities like this for people to experience them in the wild are vanishing.

The Arctic is warming from global warming and the sea ice, especially in the summer months, is declining in astonishing amounts. This affects the wildlife as well as the people who live in Barrow. As the sea ice declines they are more vulnerable to flooding from large waves and shoreline erosion.

Protect polar bears from global warming by sending a message to the Environmental Protection Agency >>

Return to Barrow

Chukchi Sea. Photo by Melinda Koslow 2005.
I went back to the same spot in Barrow for four summers afterwards, and I never got the chance to see those amazing bears again. In fact, over the years the sea ice declined so much that by 2005, I captured the image to the right of the same shoreline. The sea is still stunningly beautiful, but it is also sad because I know what polar bear beauty is absent.

I share this adoration and concern with many people throughout the National Wildlife Federation and also with our young friends. Recently our scientist, Doug Inkley, received a letter from a 2nd grader who drew a touching picture of polar bears and dedicated herself as a friend of polar bears.

She and others remind me that there is hope for the polar bears. Every day we work together at NWF and with our partners, affiliates and members to reduce global warming to protect their habitat.

So again Happy National Puppy Day and Wildlife Week! Let’s go home and hug our puppies (or dogs, cats, kitties, mice, fish) or whoever it is that helps remind us of those more wild ones we also admire and work to protect. Zeus says so.

Zeus 13 weeks. Photo by Melinda Koslow 2012.