A symbol of the Arctic, polar bears are the world’s largest land predator and biggest member of the bear family. With heavy fur, blubber up to four inches thick and black skin that absorbs heat from the sun, polar bears are amazingly well adapted to the Arctic climate. Denning females spend long periods of time largely immobile without eating or drinking, yet they do not lose bone mass or suffer from lack of water. Scientists believe that understanding polar bears may hold the key to treating many diseases.
Sadly, polar bears may be one of the first species lost in a warming world. These magnificent animals are facing unprecedented threats as a warming climate and loss of their sea ice habitat make it more difficult for the bears to hunt prey like seals and find dens for their cubs. Though polar bears are well adapted to extended fasts, they can only survive without food for so long. Since polar bears have evolved to live in the extreme conditions of the Arctic, even minor climate changes could profoundly impact the species.
On May 14, 2008, polar bears received Endangered Species Act Protection but the government failed to stop oil and gas activities in polar bear areas. Earthjustice has two separate legal actions aimed at protecting polar bears and their remaining habitat in the Polar Bear Seas and other wildlife such as bowhead whales and walrus. In the first lawsuit, Earthjustice is challenging the federal government's approval of plans by Shell Oil to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the summer of 2010. If there were an oil spill, it could lead to mass fatalities of polar bears and other wildlife because there's no way currently known to clean up such a spill in icy Arctic waters. In the second lawsuit, Earthjustice represents environmental groups and Alaska Natives who are challenging the Bush administration's sale of millions of acres of oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea—prime polar bear habitat.