A story that is rarely reported in mainstream media involves the growing division between the northern and southern perspectives on polar bear populations.
Recently, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) the organization that represents Inuit in the eastern Arctic, sponsored a mass mailing of bumper stickers to all residents of Nunavut. The stickers show a mother and cub with the words ‘Naammaktugut! We’re OK!’ They plan to hand these stickers out at the CITES meeting in Thailand next spring.
While the clamour about starving bears grows in the rest of the world, the Inuit and many northerners feel that polar bear populations are, in fact, stable, possibly even increasing.
This is a far-cry from the reports of looming extinction and the need for increasingly desperate measures promoted by groups such as Polar Bears International, WWF and now Coca-Cola. This difference in view will be a major issue for the arctic in the coming years.
It is also a view that is generally dismissed by researchers and NGOs, explaining to the Inuit that they just don’t quite understand what is happening with bears; stating that more bears are being seen around communities because of declining sea ice. Personally, I might take the word of a hunter who has grown up on the sea ice over a researcher who travels to the arctic twice a year (no offence to science).
The Inuit for their part are also lobbying for less invasive research methods. There were actually some rumblings of a ban on helicopter-based research a couple years ago. At the very least, Inuit are finally vocalizing what all northerners feel : Polar Bears are being handled too much and this is not good for the species. Science, for its part, has produced several studies saying that their techniques are not harmful to bears…
The Government of Nunavut has started monitoring populations by sight-resight methods where population numbers are counted from an airplane instead of by chasing down bears, drugging and handling them. Last fall, a population study for Western Hudson Bay was released citing a minor increase in the population from the previous mark-recapture study.
Where this will all end up, its hard to say. From what I have seen of Inuit culture, they are fairly agreeable with visitors, sometimes even telling people what they think they want to here – basically being polite – and then once the visitor has gone home, they pretty much just go back to what they were going to do anyway and forget much of what ‘insert name here’ was talking about. Soon, another ‘insert name here’ researcher/consultant/volunteer shows up, there’s a community feast and the process begins anew.
However, for Inuit organizations to be vocal about polar bears means that this issue has been simmering in the communities for quite some time now. If the future of the arctic really is important to Coca-Cola, the NGOs and their researchers, they better start listening before the Inuit decide to shut them out completely