Today, we introduce you to a fictional polar bear family -- Aakaga and her cubs Qannik and Siku -- as they make their perilous journey in a melting Arctic world.
Polar Bear Family Begins Its Journey!
This is the day.
Icy, windy, freezing – it might not look like spring to a human. But to a polar bear like Aakaga (whose name means "my mother" in Inuit), today, March 31, is the end of a dark, harsh winter.
Today is the day she'll lead her tiny, three-month-old cubs, Qannik (her name is Inuit for "Snowflake") and Siku (his name is Inuit for "Ice"), on an Arctic trek to find pack ice—the floating sea ice where polar bears spend most of their lives.
Aakaga is nervous.
Her cubs need a few more days to acclimate to the big world. Since they first poked out their shiny, black eyes from the comforting darkness of their maternity den, Qannik and Siku have spent the last eight days tumbling and playing in the fluffy, crystal powder snow outside the entrance.
But today, Aakaga's sharp nose has caught a scent of a wolf pack, upwind and hunting. The wolves need food and may have their own pups to feed. If the winds shift—or if the wolf pack moves downwind—her cubs could be in danger.
The wolves are one threat. Aakaga's hunger is another. As long as Qannik and Siku can nurse, they'll grow strong. But, Aakaga hasn't eaten since she entered her maternity den last November and she has lost more than half her weight.
While this is normal for polar bear mothers, who typically fast through the winter, hunting was particularly difficult last fall. The sea ice formed later than normal after the summer melt and Aakaga wasn't able to gorge on as many seals as usual. She entered her winter maternity den thin, with less nutritious milk for her cubs.
Aakaga must eat, and she must keep her cubs safe from predators. She must move Qannik and Siku—small and squeaking, sledding down the icy slopes—from her inland den to the ocean shore many miles away. If she can get her cubs safely onto pack ice, she can hunt seals, fatten up, and provide richer milk to help Qannik and Siku grow.
But getting to the ice before it breaks up and melts is like making or missing the only train out of town – and the "train" is leaving a bit earlier every year because global warming is melting the pack ice faster.
If Aakaga gets to shore after the melt begins, then she may be able to swim out to the ice, but she'll have to leave her cubs behind. Without her, they will surely die.
So on this day, Aakaga and her cubs begin their perilous journey.
Thousands of miles to the south, a corporate president approves a plan to invest in a new coal-fired power plant with no controls on carbon pollution – thus maintaining both profits and the spewing of greenhouse gasses. It's not his job to worry about Siku and Qannik; it's his job to make money. What do polar bears have to do with him?
To be continued . . .