Svalbard - The Land of the Polar Bear by Henry White-Smith
1st November to 15th December 2012
"Svalbard - The Land of the Polar Bear". Despite global warming reducing the sea ice for the bears to survive on, Svalbard, with it's absence of man, and his pollution, and with a Norwegian government who understands the needs, provides some hope that these beautiful creatures can go on inhabiting our earth.
The Polar Bear is finding life in the Arctic Regions more and more difficult as global warming is steadily reducing the amount of sea ice on which he can live. Without the ice there is no base from which to hunt for seals. During the summer months the ice breaks up so much that they are unable to stay resting on the same places for long and the need to swim and leap between the ice floes causes them to waste their energy until the next hunting season arrives. For six years Henry had nursed the desire to go to Svalbard to photograph these marvellous animals and now the opportunity had arisen. He was still in time before the challenges became too great and we lose them altogether.
Svalbard is a wildlife paradise, not only for bears but also for walruses and birds. The absence of man means the pollution is considerably less then the northern wastelands of Canada and Alaska. Even so, some thirty years ago Svalbard was completely surrounded by sea ice all the year round. In addition large parcels of ice broke off from the many glaciers, contributing to a stable habitat for the animals. This summer saw no sea ice in any of the fiords and instead of glaciers breaking off large chunks into the sea, they were melting and just pouring water off their surfaces. Glaciers still cover nearly 60% of the Svalbard land masses but they are retreating at an alarming rate. The greatest resulting disaster is for the animals who have relied on the seasonal cycle of ice melting and refreezing.
Currently each year's melt is not being replaced by the winter freeze. For thousands of years Polar Bears have travelled around these islands feeding on seals which live just below the surface of the sea ice. With all the changes how much longer will they be able to survive, and will Svalbard be their last refuge?
Featuring 1 artistHenry White-Smith