GEOFF YORK Nov 30th 11am ET

AMA Topic : I'm Geoff York, I have 20 years of conservation experience in the arctic, at the frontline of climate change. I’ve seen first hand how human and animal populations are threatened here, and might soon be in every coastal areas on Earth. COP21 in Paris has just started, AMA !

AMA Content : Hi Reddit !

Hi Reddit ! I'm Geoff York, Senior Director Of Conservation at Polar Bears International - I was most recently Arctic Species and Polar Bear Lead for WWF’s Global Arctic Program, a member of the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the U.S. Polar Bear Recovery Team. Ask me anything about climate Arctic climate change and polar bears, what measures need to be agreed upon at COP21 and why! Note : This AMA is part of the crowdfunding campaign for “Koguma”, an ethically made piggybank with an augmented reality app discover the arctic and support wildlife conservation programs - check it out on Kickstarter now ! Learn about our conservation actions at Follow us on Facebook : And on Twitter : @PolarBears

Thanks for the conversation today and signing off!

Comments: 677 • Responses: 79  • Date: 

blackheven297 karma

Totally thought that said "I am a Polar Bear ask me anything."

Do you believe what native Inuits say about current polar bear tracking methods? That the helicopters, tags, collars, etc. are actually hurting the polar bears in terms of causing deafness and disrupting their ability to hunt seal.

geoffreysyork140 karma

All biologists, regardless of species, care deeply about the places and species they study. Part of this care is manifest in the classic dictum for human medicine- do no harm. Biologists have been capturing and tracking wildlife across species and around the world for over 30 years. Looking at polar bears specifically- three published studies have looked at all available data and found no significant impacts from capture or collaring. Can protocol and equipment be improved- absolutely. Biologists are constantly trying to find less invasive methods, and improve invasive techniques. Animal care and use committees also oversee most research that involves live animals to insure no harm is done.

KeifHaring88 karma

How much does a Polar Bear weigh?

geoffreysyork104 karma

Adult polar bear males can weigh in excess of 1500 pounds, females typically max out at 700 when pregnant.

P0in7B1ank115 karma

But is that enough to break the ice?

dmttalk_naturetalk29 karma

No, they have some special ability I remember reading about that allows them to walk on impressively thin ice for their weight.

lediath64 karma

Doesn't it have to do with their large paws so that they can spread their weight over a much larger area and thereby prevent falling through the ice?

geoffreysyork53 karma


bugboots73 karma

I have a ten year old who is absolutely obsessed with polar bears, and she wants to do something. What can she do, that will both make a difference, and make her feel like she has an impact, to help save them?

geoffreysyork83 karma

There are many things we can all do for conservation- at the individual level up to the global. Your daughter can work with you to reduce energy use in your home- from better efficiency, weatherization, to buying power from sustainable and clean sources where possible. You can also work with her to contact local, regional, and national leaders and urge them to show leadership and take meaningful actions to address global warming- like pricing carbon. Lastly, she can save some of her pennies and together with you, choses a conservation organization to join.

c0mpl3xy58 karma

How well do polar bears get along with other species of bear?

geoffreysyork108 karma

Polar bears only overlap in range with Barren Ground Grizzly bears, the smallest of the brown bear family. In general, polar bears are quite risk averse and avoid interaction with brown bears. There is one place in the Arctic- Victoria Island- where brown and polar bears have bred to create hybrids.

Captain-Douche-Canoe32 karma

They're called a Grizlar and they exist. I heard a story (possibly urban legend) of a Canadian hunter who killed one and was forced to pay a fine of a bunch of money because he had a polar bear hunting license but not a "Grizlar" license.

EDIT: It really did happen!

HurricaneSandyHook3 karma

There was some tv show that I believe covered this incident. It was a few years ago and all I remember is that they really had not confirmation the bear he shot was a hybrid. Fascinating nonetheless.

geoffreysyork3 karma

No fine as it was a legal harvest and definitely a hybrid

Roach279149 karma

What is the weirdest thing polar bears eat?

geoffreysyork105 karma

Fermented kelp. In places like Hudson Bay Canada, storms thrown large piles of kelp onto some beaches where it slowly composts over time. Polar bears will dig down into these piles of "kelp sauerkraut" and eat the seemingly preferred bits at the bottom.

Bamboozled7739 karma

What temperature is considered too hot for a polar bear and what is too cold?

geoffreysyork53 karma

Polar bears have adapted to life in the Arctic. Average January temperatures range from about −40 to 0 °C (−40 to +32 °F). Average July temperatures range from about −10 to +10 °C (14 to 50 °F). They are quite at home in this temperature range, but can tolerate temperatures both warmer and cooler.

Electroguy29 karma

Why is a reduction of ice a bad thing for polar bears? Bears eat other animals than fish and much of their habitat in the wild is land. You would think that a slighlt warmer climate would increase other game numbers and bears being opportunistic by nature would thrive better on that..

geoffreysyork81 karma

Polar bears have evolved over about 350,000 years to become highly specialized predators of ice seals. In most of the Arctic, they rarely came to land and prefer to remain out on the floating sea ice- which is why they are considered a marine mammal in the US and elsewhere. While polar bears stranded onshore will sometimes eat terrestrial foods- they are obligate carnivores and the latest research into their physiology and energetic requirements conclude that terrestrial foods are insufficient sources of calories. Topping that, there is already a bear species living in the Arctic terrestrial niche- the Barren Grounds Grizzly. They are the smallest of the brown bears with the largest home ranges precisely due to the low calorie foods available to them.

yellow5s22 karma

Stolen from Ricky Gervais but a genuine question anyway:

Why are their noses black and not white/pink?

geoffreysyork44 karma

Like their distant relatives the brown bear, polar bears have darkly toned noses. Polar bear skin is also black and their hair without pigment.

Frajer19 karma

What got you interested in polar bears?

geoffreysyork33 karma

I have a lifelong passion for the outdoors. Moving to Alaska exposed me to the Arctic, which I developed a strong affinity towards- just an absolutely unique place both on land at at sea. Polar bears came into my life quite by chance some 18 yearss ago, and I've never looked back.

unicornered18 karma

Do you or your colleagues have to fight against and convince others that climate change is a very real threat?

geoffreysyork32 karma

All the time, especially here in North America. This is a particularly challenging and frustrating part of the job. Scientists have known about global warming and the potential threats it poses to the planet since the late 1950's. We've known about the greenhouse house effect since 1896- this is not new.

Sp3y17 karma

How serious is the climate change threat for them, and are there critical decisions you are waiting to see signed during COP21 ?

geoffreysyork28 karma

The climate threat is far and above the leading threat to polar bears as a warming world means less ice, less habitat. Paris must create a pathway to forward actions, a framework to accompany the commitments that each country is bringing to the table. Ideally it will also make progress on the idea of carbon pricing.

MattCrinos17 karma

As someone with no experience or qualifications, how would I best go about finding work and moving to another country to help in animal conservation? Advice specific to bears would be a bonus.


geoffreysyork22 karma

Seek out volunteer opportunities with animals and wildlife. Be open to opportunities and travel. Volunteers still drive a lot of conservation efforts globally- you can make a difference.

StickmanSham14 karma

How would the extinction of the polar bear or other arctic animals affect us?

geoffreysyork34 karma

If we loose polar bears, we've lost a whole lot more, both in the Arctic and globally. What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. One way to think about the Arctic historically is a key element of the Earth's cooling system. if we completely loose that cooling system, it will likely be a lot warmer everywhere and polar bears will be the least of our worries.

i_am_not_a_shrubbery13 karma

As a biologist, I hear a lot of disagreement between Inuit and researchers about the current population of polar bears. As part of their traditional values, they are able to hunt polar bears. Is this a sustainable practice given the current population of polar bears? How do you reconcile this with your research? Second question, how do you feel about these 1-Day tours to Churchill, MB as the obvious environmental issues involving the release of CO2 from emissions such as airplanes contribute to the decline of the sea-ice?


geoffreysyork18 karma

To your first point- in some regions there may indeed be more bears for a period of time as the climate warms and areas that were less productive or less suitable to bears and seals become more favorable, in other areas we will see (and have seen) reductions as habitat loss crosses thresholds. In areas where we have seen dramatic habitat loss, more bears being seen may simply be more bears spending time ashore and closer to people over longer time periods. Regarding the second question- I think we all need to examine the pros and cons of our actions and resulting carbon footprints. if traveling to a region and experiencing that first hand transforms you into a spokesperson for conservation, perhaps that is carbon well spent.

chefr8913 karma

In the past, I've read mixed reports as to the overall population of polar bears. This includes claims that under their protected status, they've actually boomed to levels considered detrimental to other wildlife species. However, the overall reporting on numbers both past and present seem to be sketchy at best. What is your take on this? Is it possible to ever reach a level where there are 'too many'?

geoffreysyork23 karma

Polar bears are thought to have dropped to relatively low numbers globally by the mid- 1960's due to sustained and largely unregulated commercial and sport harvesting. The Polar Bears Range States signed an agreement in 1973 that largely addressed the threats associated with harvest and eliminated all commercial harvest. Population estimation for a species that lives in a remote part of the planet and largely out of human view is challenging and expensive. We completely luck any modern data on polar bear populations across Russia. As to whether there can be too many- yes, both biologically (which typically sorts itself over time) and from a social carrying capacity standpoint.

donrhummy12 karma

Are polar bears very social creatures? Or are they more isolated individuals or small family units?

geoffreysyork16 karma

Polar bears can be quite social in different settings and seasons. Family groups are very social while together. Males can be surprisingly social in places where they aggregate and fast onshore while waiting for sea ice to return.

nicklikesfire11 karma


Are there any ethical and environmentally responsible ways for a non-scientist person to see polar bears in their native environment?

Thanks for doing this AMA!

geoffreysyork18 karma

There are viewing opportunities in places like Svalbard Norway, Wrangell Island Russia, Kaktovik Alaska, Pond Inlet Canada, and Hudson Bay Canada.

AnchovieProton7 karma

What are some factors that enable polar bears to withstand and thrive in extreme cold? I heard their hairs are hollow and somehow super insulating. Can we use any polar bear derived technology to help us keep warm? Do they have some sort of antifreeze for tears?

geoffreysyork16 karma

Polar bears do have great adaptations for the cold including small ears and tail, the ability to store and efficiently use fat, thick underfur and hollow guard hairs. This is also why a high fat diet of seals is critical to their survival in this climate. Eating a high fat diet in the cold actually works for humans as well. Sorry- no anti-freeze in the tears that I am aware of!

soundslikepuget6 karma

So I hear that the University of Alberta has lost a collared polar bear up there and the collar has both A) Stopped transmitting and B) failed to corrode and fall off as it was supposed to. So the bear's being choked by it and is not doing so hot.

They say they can't get helicopters up there right now to look for it because of the short days. Is there any other way to search for it? Airplanes with infrared? Anything?

geoffreysyork10 karma

Damage to a bear from a collar is exceedingly rare, but can happen. In this case, the window of opportunity to remove the collar has passed until next summer when the bear is likely to return to shore and to Kaktovik specifically. The scale of polar bear range and the limitations of our logistics combined with the dangers of working in the Arctic make any effort to find this bear beyond challenging at present.

salt-the-skies5 karma

Why wouldn't you go with the title of "bearologist"?

Also, bears, beets or Battlestar Galactica?

geoffreysyork7 karma

Bearoligist works for me... and I'd of course go with bears over beets, or Battlestars...

AbsoluteSeeker5 karma

If icecap would completly melt in the north hemisphere, could polar bears be "relocated" in antartica for preservation purpose ?

geoffreysyork14 karma

Sadly, what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic and warming will eventually have global impacts- even in Antarctica. While those impacts are expected to follow behind the melting we are experiencing in the North- moving polar bears would be a challenging proposal. We know from other failed attempts at species relocation (Australia and Hawaii come to mind) that there are typically massive unintended consequences. While polar bears might thrive in Antarctica, penguins and many of the seal species living there today could be wiped out.

tberriman5 karma

What potential solutions have been proposed to protect polar bear populations in the Arctic? Has there been thought given to the protection of other species living in the Arctic by your group?

geoffreysyork14 karma

The leading long term threat to polar bears is habitat loss driven by climate warming. Addressing global warming, despite the difficulties inherent therein, is the only long term solution to conserve polar bears and other ice dependent life in the Arctic.

Afinkawan4 karma

What's the absolute coolest thing you can tell us about polar bears?

geoffreysyork16 karma

The coolest thing about polar bears is that they were able to exploit the sea ice at all! Imagine rolling up on an area of snow and ice as far as the eye can see. To the uninitiated, the Arctic looks like something from another planet, but polar bears, along with Arctic Peoples, managed to see the potential and learned how to survive.

aimstylez3 karma

what about they can swim nonstop for up to 10 days straight?

geoffreysyork10 karma

We have one confirmed swim of nearly 700km over nine days

donrhummy1 karma

They are invisible to infrared (except for their noses, eyes and breath).

Polar bears are actually so well insulated, they’re invisible to night-vision goggles.

geoffreysyork8 karma

I actually pioneered the use of Forward Loking Infrared (FLIR) to detect dens under the snow and I can assure you that they are visible in IR in the surface.

PM_Me_A_PSN_Code4 karma

Are polar bears friendly?

geoffreysyork11 karma

Not exactly, but they are risk averse and can be quite social at certain times of year. I have seen groups of 8-10 adult male polar bears napping together and walking together. Adult males routinely spar or play fight/wrestle in places of congregation like Hudson Bay and Wrangell Island.

yosemitetrailblazer3 karma

Do you know of any happy documentaries or specials on polar bears? Almost anything I find ends with the depressing message about melting ice and a loss of habitat. I just want to learn about polar bears and not cry!

Also, does Coca-Cola do anything (efforts/donations) for the bears due to their use in ads around the holidays? Thanks!

geoffreysyork9 karma

I think there are several documentaries out there that really capture the beauty of the Arctic as a place and show the amazing adaptions of the polar bear. Will they discuss threats and climate- yes, but turn your sadness into action. This week in particular our world leaders are gathered in Paris to make progress on global climate negotiations. Meanwhile, in places like the US, many are trying to hamstring political leaders and limit success. Get informed and engaged- call your local, regional, and National leaders and urge climate action now. Regarding Coca-Cola, in both North America and Europe, they ran specific but date limited campaigns that did raise a few million dollars for PB conservation. To my knowledge, those programs have ended (North America) or are about to (Europe). Call or write Coke management and urge them to support PB conservation annually.

StrafingLobster3 karma

Hi, this AMA is particular interesting to me. I've spent the past year jumping from research project to research project as a tech.

Do Polar Bears provide any kind of ecosystem service outside of eating other animals and keeping prey species populations in check?

geoffreysyork2 karma

Arctic peoples would likely say they provide food and clothing as well.

hdwore3 karma

What are your thoughts on the proposed Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan? The draft seemed to have some interesting recovery criterion in regards to the carrying capacity of the species.

geoffreysyork7 karma

You must be talking about the US CMP? if so, there were clearly some communication issues regarding the intent of the Recovery Team (on which I sit) and the wording in the draft CMP. Expect much clearer language as we revise the CMP in coming months.

KatEye3 karma

How can we as individuals help save the polar bears ? They are my absolute favorite animal !

geoffreysyork12 karma

Polar bears offer a great opportunity for individual actions- particularly on climate warming. Individual actions, scaled up, can make a big difference for this global threat. Working from your home to your community, to regional and National levels- supporting increased energy efficiency, making more sustainable choices, supporting the implementation of sustainable energy (from home solar/wind to large scale regional projects)- will all contribute. Lastly- become informed and politically engaged. We need leaders who accept science and who are willing to act on climate change today.

d_3d3 karma

How optimistic is the scientific community about the survivability of the polar bear species / is it too late?

geoffreysyork8 karma

It is definitely NOT too late. While the task at hand, climate warming, is large and complex, we have solutions. What we lack is the political will to enact plans and programs that will start turning this around. You can change that by getting involved and by voting for politicians that understand the science and are willing to act.

jorgp23 karma

How's it like having that much fur?

geoffreysyork3 karma

Warm I would imagine, especially in combination with a good layer of fat.

afghani_smurf3 karma

The IUCN says that, of the 19 populations of polar bear, one has increased in numbers, six are stable, three have declined, and for the remaining nine there are insufficient data.

Any thoughts as to whether the overall numbers are up, down, or stable in recent (past decades) history, and how those might compare to historical data (centuries)?

geoffreysyork4 karma

It depends on where and when you look. There is a lot of nuance and complexity around population estimation and there are many areas for where information is old or completely lacking. Biologists are working to develop population and habitat metrics that may be better guides of long term trends and more reasonable to acquire.

Lame-Apostle3 karma

Are there albino polar bears? What do they look like?

geoffreysyork5 karma

Not that I've encountered. The closest thing I've seen to this is lack of pigment in a few claws.

heisenbaby_blueberg3 karma

Would it be possible to start a project to have several polar bears acclimated to warmer temperatures so that they would still survive even without sea ice? If worse comes to worst, and climate change forces polar bears to become endangered, at least they won't be extinct?

geoffreysyork6 karma

While polar bears can tolerate warmer temperatures- it is really an issue of habitat and prey. While the Arctic is loosing ice across seasons, this loss is most dramatic in summer months. While we may loose summer sea ice entirely if we fail to address climate warming, winter ice will return for the foreseeable future and polar bears will require significant calories/fat storage to make it through the still long, dark, cold Arctic winters.

donrhummy2 karma

Does a portion of the sale of this coat go to PBI?

geoffreysyork2 karma

Yes it does. CG is a major sponsor of and partner to PBI.

bbeeaarrss2 karma

What's the closest you've gotten to a polar bear? Have you hugged one?

geoffreysyork5 karma

I worked on the sea ice capturing polar bears over 14 consecutive years- so quite close. A few close encounters over those years as well.

Close-the-gate2 karma

What can I do to help polar bears as an individual or group?(eg. family)

geoffreysyork7 karma

Get engaged on climate actions locally, regionally, and nationally. From actions in your personal life, at work, in your community, and engagement politically- you can make a difference.

Ethan_May2 karma

Does melting of the icecaps actually affect polar bears in the respect that they drown because they have so far to swim? This is an oddly worded question, but I've heard a lot about this sort of thing. Like how many polar bears have actually died because of this?

geoffreysyork10 karma

We have directly linked polar bear deaths to long distance swimming and severe storms. We have also increasingly documented long distance swimming behavior in several parts of the Arctic using satellite tracking data. In the Southern Beaufort Sea where I did most of my field work, the ice has gone from being within 3 miles from shore in the summer to over 300 today- a massive change in a very short time period.

vinnythehammer2 karma

Hello Mr. York! Thanks for doing this AMA. I've always had a fascination for bears of all sorts, and I think it's awesome you get to work with them firsthand. My question: with your predictions of the populations dropping drastically in the next decades, what would your organization, or even the average person, be able to do to help combat this?

geoffreysyork5 karma

Work to reduce and ultimately stop the leading threat to polar bears- habitat loss due to climate change.

NuclearCorpus2 karma

I have a few questions;

1) Do you ever go out and see the polar bears in their natural environment?

  • If yes, what's the longest you have stayed out there for?

  • if (again) yes, have you ever watched The Thing whilst out there? (I don't know why but I'm imagining it looking like a snow blasted research base)

  • Are there any complications with staying out there for too long?

2) What can the average schmuck (ta-da!) do to help climate change slow itself down a bit?

geoffreysyork3 karma

I have been fortunate to get out into polar bear habitat every year for the last 18 years- amazing! The longest field seasons can be two months, though we do not camp on the ice. Have not seen "The Thing"- sorry. As with any remote and long work assignment, being away from family and friends does take a toll. As to what can you do- get engaged on reducing climate warming. Take actions and show leadership in your personal life, at work, and beyond. You can make difference.

Eddie_142 karma

How do you feel about the representation/use of polar bears in films?

geoffreysyork3 karma

I mostly watch documentaries of polar bears in their natural environment. Regarding animated films, I think people should take care to accurately portray wildlife whenever possible.

donrhummy2 karma

Is there anything we can/should do to help the polar bears? (Other than donate, which I already do)

geoffreysyork3 karma

Get engaged in reducing global warming- from individual actions to electing competent politicians who will act to curb green house gas emissions.

demidevil2 karma

What was you're favorite discovery upon seeing your first live polar bear?

geoffreysyork2 karma

That they exist at all in this otherwise icy land and seascape...pretty cool animals!

Chimbada2 karma

I'm looking to get a degree in Wildlife Biology (I'm finishing up this semester at Community College before I transfer to a 4 year uni), and I literally shouted when I saw that "Polar bear biologist" was a thing! They're my absolute favorite animal! How did you find yourself specializing in that field? I originally wanted to go into Zoology, but I was told that Zoology was being swallowed into degrees that focus more on the systems as a whole, and less about the individual species themselves. Any tips for a hopeful student? Thanks for all that you do!

geoffreysyork3 karma

My colleagues are quite varied in backgrounds from Zoologists, physiologists, veterinarians, behavioral ecologists, quantitative ecologists, and conservation biologists on the science side. Conservation also deals with education, people, and policy- so we need people with academic training in those areas as well. Best of luck!

irregularcog2 karma

How much are the ice seals numbers affected by Ice loss?

geoffreysyork3 karma

While much less studied, information available suggests they are highly vulnerable to a warming Arctic. Combined with habitat loss and decreased stability, ringed seals require adequate snow to build their maternal lairs for pupping. In places like Western Svalbard where both snowfall and sea ice are greatly reduced, scientists are documenting multiple years of complete reproductive failure.

howarthe2 karma

How do polar bears do in zoos? I've read some animals do better than others, and some zoos do better than others. What challenges do zoos face when they try to care for polar bears?

geoffreysyork3 karma

It very much depends on the institution and their ability to invest in both adequate facilities and adequate staffing. There are "minimum" standards for keeping polar bears set by the AZA. A challenge with a long lived and intelligent species like the polar bear is providing adequate space (a variety of substrates) and adequate enrichment. Definitely a species that requires significant financial and staffing investments.

polarbehr762 karma

Do climate change deniers anger you?

geoffreysyork3 karma

Skepticism is healthy and an integral part of the scientific process. On the climate front what we have now goes beyond healthy skepticism. There is increasing evidence of intentional obfuscation and politicization. In my experience, people are less dismissive of climate science and more dismissive of proposed solutions to the problems that result from a warming world- largely values based. Recent and strong leadership from folks in math based organizations is starting to change the conversation in a meaningful and hopeful way.

dreamostar1 karma


Gudneh1 karma

Lately I've read numerous stories that a lot of life on this planet is about to go extinct. Can we expect a similar fate for the polar bear, do you even reckon they have chance of survival in the next 50 - 100 years?

geoffreysyork3 karma

Their long term survival depends on actions that all of take in the coming years to reduce and ultimately halt warming. It is not too late and there is plenty of reason to be hopeful still.

BrewPounder1 karma

Why should humans care so much about something that would kill and eat us and not think twice about it?

geoffreysyork3 karma

What happens to polar bears and their Arctic home is an early warning of changes in our global system that will ultimately impact all of us, everywhere.

Leppaluthi1 karma

Is it likely that the Polar bear will become extinct in this century?

geoffreysyork2 karma

No- what is likely, especially if we fail to act on climate- polar bears will occur in fewer places and in lower numbers than today and they will become much more vulnerable to extinction.

Chris93cl1 karma

What's the best way for me to get into a career in animal Conservation and research? I'm getting ready to graduate from college with a BS in Agricultural Leadership and Develop with an emphasis in animal science. My degree is more focused on animal production for food, but I now I would prefer to work on conservation.

geoffreysyork3 karma

Look for volunteer/intern opportunities in conservation globally. Field experience makes a big difference as would an an advanced degree once you decide on a path.

letsboop1 karma

There was recently posted a photo of a person kayaking in Arctic waters that I found fascinating. (

It got me wondering, are polar bears effective hunters in the water? If a polar bear was hungry enough, or agitated enough to identify a kayaker as a potential target, would they attack in the water? How worried would this kayaker have to be? Could the kayaker likely paddle faster than the polar bear can swim?

geoffreysyork3 karma

While polar bears can and do take seals in open water, seals clearly have the advantage. Most documented cases of open water hunting success involve ambush hunting from an island or rocky outcrop. Polar bears are capable of attacking humans in any setting and should aways be treated with respect and kept at a conservative distance. true for much wildlife!

helloimcaroline1 karma

What do you find to be the most frustrating misconception of polar bears?

In your opinion, how soon might polar bears go extinct? I've heard as little as 30 years but based on life span I find that to be a tad unrealistic.

Finally, I'm currently writing a term paper on polar bears. Do you have anything in particular to say that I may quote you on? It can be poignant, remarkable, or just straight up honest truth.

Thanks so much for doing this AMA!

geoffreysyork5 karma

That they could simply adapt to life on land. The reality- the current rate of warming will not allow bears to "evolve". It took 350,000 years for polar bears to become the specialist predators we see today. Regarding extinction, the best way to look at the current situation is this: unabated climate warming will result in there being fewer polar bears in fewer places this century- making them much more vulnerable to extinction.

standrews1231 karma

Hi Geoff! I'm an undergraduate biologist at St Andrews uni and was wondering if you had any advice for becoming a conservation biologist?? Thanks :)

geoffreysyork2 karma

Seek out unique field experiences in areas of interest- whether volunteer of internships. Be willing to travel and spend time in the field. There is also a need for technical skills (geospatial tools, etc.) and quantitative ecologists.

ACAx19851 karma

Because global warming negatively affects polar bears, does it positively impact the life/populations of polar bears' food sources? With less polar bears around, I would imagine pinnipeds can live easier lives.

It sounds cynical and dark, but I've always wondered what species "benefit" from humans destroying the environment, especially when it means less predators.

geoffreysyork4 karma

While there will likely be winners and losers to climate warming in the short term, in the long term, unabated warming is likely to create a less stable world for all species. In the Arctic we are seeing souther species push north- brown bears and moose on land for example, orcas and harbor seals in the sea.

IpAriAhI1 karma

How important is the polar bear to its ecosystem? If it died off, what would be the effect? What if we encourage breeding and their population gets too high? I think they're beautiful, but they're pretty terrifying.

geoffreysyork2 karma

Like most top predators, polar bears are thought to play key roles in their sea ice ecosystem- some directly related to regulating seal populations and others to energy flow within the system (seals to bears to arctic foxes, etc.). As with most things in life, there can be too much of a good thing, so you could actually have too many both ecologically and socially in areas where people and bears share space.

aimstylez1 karma

I want to get involved in polar bear conservation, I have no experience or qualifications in this area. Where do i begin?

geoffreysyork2 karma

Education first- both self driven and formal if possible. Then look for volunteer/intern possibilities with organizations working on various aspects of polar bear conservation or on climate.

Teddie10561 karma

What will you do if polar bears, you know, go extinct?

geoffreysyork5 karma

I will do everything I can to prevent that from happening.

Thrash2Kill1 karma

I know its been suggested in the past but is it time to conside constructing artificial floating platforms to temporarily supplement the ice the polar bears are losing? I do believe our focus should be to slow and eventually end our part in causing climate change but it seems with out some sort of very drastic break through our current efforts will not be enough to save the polor bear.

geoffreysyork7 karma

Sadly, artificial platforms will not replace the functions of sea ice. Ice is like the soil of the Arctic marine system. A variety of micro-fauna live under and within the sea ice itself and is grazed/preyed upon by plankton who in turn feed cod and so on. Much better to focus that ingenuity and technology on addressing climate warming- the real issue here.

PC_Mustard_Race831 karma

I once heard that polar bears will sometimes cover their nose with snow when sneaking up on potential prey, so that the nose's black color won't give them away. Is this true? If so, it's kind of scary to think about.

geoffreysyork2 karma

While a good story, there is no evidence from countless observations of polar bears actually covering their noses.

notwhatyouthink12211 karma

Do you ever hire/accept volunteer applications from veterinarian students to help with research in the summers?

geoffreysyork3 karma

Our research partners sometimes do.

Lillynorth1 karma


geoffreysyork3 karma

Captive facilities have and can play a role in conservation of species in the wild- from public education and outreach to active breeding and reintroduction programs. The key questions to ask your local zoos and aquaria- what are they doing to advance conservation in the wild? What are they doing locally to lead on sustainability and climate?

zoroya1 karma

Polar bears are by far my favorite animals. When I go to my local zoo, they pace back and forth almost endlessly unless they're swimming. I've heard different reasons for this, can you explain why? All I know is it doesn't look healthy.

geoffreysyork5 karma

It's called stereotypic behavior and recent advances in understanding of animal behavior and needs is helping to eliminate this at many facilities. Modern exhibit spaces are also part of the solution. More here:

Stupoopy0 karma

Oh my god oh my god I've loved polar bears for 25+ years.

This is too exciting!

Do polar bears give you coca cola while you study them?

geoffreysyork3 karma


TheXtremeDino0 karma

Do you like polar bears?

geoffreysyork5 karma

Without question- fascinated by such an amazing animal so well adapted to life on floating sea ice.

pintazpt-1 karma

How many teaspoons are in a tablespoon?

geoffreysyork6 karma

3 in most places, but polar bears are not known to use measuring devices. : )

Ender-of-Bart-7 karma

Best place to hunt polar bears? Heard pelts are up in price.