Stunning Google Street View pictures reveal polar bears in their natural habitat

Avatar By Aaron Sims | 7 years ago

Churchill Manitoba has been called the “Polar Bear Capital of the World.” Google is celebrating by mapping the remote town on International Polar Bear Day.

As the Arctic melts and sea ice diminishes, polar bears are facing shrinking habitat and hunting grounds. According to Polar Bears International, February 27 is “International Polar Bear Day.” The group is encouraging people to participate by turning their thermostat up or down a few degrees, depending on where they live, to save energy and reduce carbon emissions.

Polar Bears International is also working with Google to help people better understand and connect with the bears by seeing them in their natural habitat. Google has strapped its cameras to a tundra buggy to capture new images of Churchill Manitoba, and the landscape of Cape Churchill and Wapusk National Park. With no roads leading to Churchill, Google, presumably, had to fly the equipment in.

“I think the whole thing is going to be really exciting,” Polar Bears International executive director Krista Wright, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “You have the opportunity to see polar bears in natural habitat. There’s imagery of sparring bears – this behaviour that we see with male bears where they stand up on their hind legs and kind of play fight. There’s images of a mom nursing a cub.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are currently 20-25,000 wild polar bears, with approximately 15,000 living in Canada. The bears are listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) ‘Red List’ of Threatened Species, listed as ‘threatened’ under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) and listed as a species of ‘Special Concern’ under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA).

According to Wright, using Google Street View does more than take cuddly bear photos. It also serves a scientific monitoring purpose. According to here statement, “Bringing Street View to Canada’s tundra establishes a baseline record of imagery associated with specific geospatial data—information that’s critical if we’re to understand and communicate the impact of climate change on their sensitive ecosystem. As we work to safeguard their habitat, PBI can add Street View imagery to the essential tools we use to assess and respond to the biggest threat facing polar bears today.”

“We also use the Google Maps API to support our Bear Tracker, which illustrates the frozen odyssey these bears embark on every year. As winter approaches and the sea ice freezes over, polar bears head out onto Hudson Bay to hunt for seals. Bear Tracker uses of satellite monitors and an interactive Google Map to display their migration for a global audience.”

In addition to the new Street View footage, Google has published a Views tour which will show you some of the images their cameras captured, without a person having to virtually scour the tundra with Street View.

According to Google, “As climate change becomes increasingly more apparent, polar bears are seen as the barometer to measure changes in the environment. The impact of the warming of our planet can be clearly seen in Churchill, Canada. This quiet town, set on the shores of western Hudson Bay, is a place where polar bears and humans coexist until the sea ice forms and the polar bears can travel on to the bay to hunt seals, their main prey.”

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