Scientists raise alarm about polar bears’ plastic consumption in Arctic Russia

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A polar bear is seen walking across the street in Churchill, in northern Canada, in November 2009. Russian scientists are deeply concerned by the proliferation of plastic waste in northern latitudes, including along the coasts of the Arctic archipelagos. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
Plastic waste makes up a quarter of the diet for polar bears, says Ivan Mizin, research director of Russian Arctic national park.

In February, photos and videos of well-fed polar bears from the military settlement of Belushaya Guba at Novaya Zemlya made it to the internet and quickly went viral.

Regional authorities declared ‘emergency’ as the bears walked around the houses in the settlement and would not leave. Maybe logically, the local garbage dump was filled with human food-waste packed in plastic-bags easy to bite through for the bears.

A polar bear keeps close to her young along the Beaufort Sea coast in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska in 2007. A survey conducted in Alaska shows that polar bears also eat plastic waste from landfills. (Susanne Miller/US Fish and Wildlife Service/Handout via Reuters)

Scientists have determined that up to 25% of the contents in stomach and excrement of polar bears that have been eating at dump sites where people live in the Russian Arctic is plastic, Interfax reports. Ivan Mizin said to the news agency that scientists are seriously concerned about the wide-spread of plastic waste at northern latitudes, including the coastlines of Arctic archipelagoes.

The problem is not limited to the Russian Arctic. A survey from Alaska shows that polar bears are indeed eating plastic waste from dumps, the Hakai magazine reported this spring. An analysis of the stomach contents of 51 polar bears killed by subsistence hunters in the southern Beaufort Sea between 1996 and 2018 confirmed the plastic waste problem. Plastics were found in one of four stomachs.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: The garbage polar bears get into is getting into them, CBC News

Finland: Elk hunting season increasingly bringing hunters and joggers in same areas in Finland, Yle News

Iceland: Iceland to host international symposium on plastics in Arctic and sub-Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Could drones help prevent polar bear attacks on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard?, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russian Arctic town overrun by polar bears, CBC News

Sweden: Hunters push to end Sweden’s ban on bow hunting, Radio Sweden

United States: After deadly bear attack, hikers in Anchorage, Alaska weigh risks, Alaska Public Media

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Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

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