I am the Senior Director of Conservation at Polar Bears International, the world's only non-profit focused solely on protecting wild polar bears. I am a member of the Polar Bear Specialist Group, the U.S. Polar Bear Recovery Team, and chair the Human-Polar Bear Conflict Working Group. AMA about polar bears, conservation, impacts of climate change on the Arctic, or what we need to accomplish at COP23.

Proof: https://imgur.com/a/jWFGX

Join us for Polar Bear Week next week: https://polarbearsinternational.org/get-involved/polar-bear-week/

Watch live polar bears here: https://explore.org/livecams/polar-bears/polar-bear-cam

Thanks for all the great questions today! We are signing off now so no new questions here, but feel free to write in through Tundra Connections and via our Facebook and web page at Polar Bears International!

Signing off

Comments: 222 • Responses: 41  • Date: 

LunaticNik129 karma

Have you ever considered changing your title to "Polar Bearologist"?

geoffsyork139 karma

I ike that! Sadly, due to the dramatic changes many of us have seen over our careers- changes in the last 30 years- we have wondered if we will all become polar bear historians. Sure hope not!

LunaticNik58 karma

Well this makes me sad. :(

geoffsyork87 karma

It's only sad if we don't collectively take actions to stop the warming and help stabilize sea ice (and temperatures where we live too!). So turn that sadness into action- talk to your family and friends, talk to your elected officials, vote if you can, and help transition our world to cleaner sources of energy.

teknowaffle62 karma

Hello from Svalbard.

We have had bears coming near to town several times the past few months, which has created some safety issues.

Do you think there is anything that can be done to actively discourage bears from nearing population centers?

geoffsyork50 karma

There are best practices that are much the same for brown and black bears here in North America. A great community resource for ideas comes from the Bear Smart Community program in British Columbia, Canada (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/plants-animals-ecosystems/wildlife/human-wildlife-conflict/staying-safe-around-wildlife/bears/bear-smart). Top of my list would be to eliminate sources of reward: bear proofing your waste system and any other outdoor food storage. Secondly is a longer term process of "teaching" bears that coming too close to people will result in a negative experience. Churchill does this through the Polar Bear Alert Program- professional conservation officers who intercept and deter bears trying to explore the community.

geoffsyork39 karma

At a personal level, people should carry deterrents on them when out and about during the time of year polar bears may come into town- which up there may be all year! While currently illegal to possess in Norway, bear spray (specialized pepper spray cans) are widely used for bear defense and deterrent in North America and we have 17 documented cases of successful use on polar bears.

WavesRKewl50 karma

Holy shit. Advice for a zoology major who's wanted to work with polar bears forever?

geoffsyork68 karma

Look for opportunities to work in cold places like the Arctic or Antarctic- doing anything. Experience in the field helps a lot. Secondly look for chances to get hands on with animals- anything helps here as well so need not be bears. You have the third base covered- a good academic background in biology/ecology/zoology. One of the best polar bear researchers today actually started out as an engineer modeling oil fields, but put that quantitative framework to use on population ecology with the help of a PhD on polar bears... so also keep an open mind!

Coolingritu41 karma

How much do you guys actually benefit from the sale of these? http://www.canadagoose.com/us/en/pbi-expedition-parka-4565MPB.html

geoffsyork76 karma

For each PBI parka sold we get $50, which adds up! Canada Goose is our largest corporate sponsor and have been long time supporters of our work.

Moofalo37 karma

Can you put to rest whether polar bears are more closely related to grizzlies or coastal browns?

My bear biologist friend says coastal browns.

Edit to ask. "what kind of bear is best?"

geoffsyork78 karma

Coastal browns and grizzlies are both brown bears. There is genetic evidence of brown bears on Admiralty Island in SE Alaska having interbreed with polar bears some time ago. We also know polar bears diverged from a shared ancestor of the modern brown bear circa 300,000 or more years ago.

Edited to add, "polar bears are best".


Do Polar Bears enjoy Coca-Cola like in those ads?

geoffsyork103 karma

Well, I've never been able to have a real conversation with a polar bear, but I did hear a tale from a colleague in Norway. He had come upon the scene of a remote cabin where a polar bear had broken in through a window and made quite a mess looking for food. Among items left in the cabin where cans of beer and cans of Coke. The Coke cans were all crushed and empty, while the beer was untouched.

ForgotMyFathersFace28 karma

Do polar bears ever engage in sexual activities with members of the same and opposite sex, and if so would that make you a bi-polar bear biologist?

geoffsyork32 karma

While adult males can be surprisingly social, especially in places like Hudson Bay and Wrangel Island where they come ashore for longer periods of time, I have not yet seen same sex sexual activity. Even with modern research methods and increased access to the Arctic, polar bears still spend most of their lives out of human sight, so there are likely behaviors that are rarely seen, and possibly never seen yet to be discovered.

bguthery25 karma

What's the most interesting fact or thing about polar bears in your opinion?

geoffsyork72 karma

That they successfully live in the Arctic and on the sea ice. When you fly out over the frozen ocean, it looks absolutely bare to you and me- ice and snow as far as you can see and in all directions. And yet...you see the world's largest land predator walking along a pressure ridge. Clearly there is more to the picture, but it's all out of view. Underneath that ice is a vibrant community of algae, plankton, polar cod, and seals (among other things) that depend on that ice for their lives.

coryrenton18 karma

are there any other regions on the earth where polar bears can naturally thrive?

geoffsyork46 karma

Polar bears live in 19 populations in 5 countries around the world: Alaska (US), Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia. There are four different ecoregions, or types of sea ice habitat, that they live in: divergent, convergent, archipelago, and seasonal sea ice. Some polar bears come to land for several months a year while others live their entire lives on the ice. But even with different strategies, all polar bears need sea ice to have access to their main prey, seals.

geoffsyork42 karma

The Arctic is the only region they naturally occur. Could polar bears survive in the Antarctic- very likely. Would that be good for penguins, seals, and other species living down south- absolutely not. With no natural surface predators, the penguins and seals of Antarctic would be easy prey. We also know all too well from places like Hawaii and Australia that species introductions rarely go as intended and can have catastrophically negative impacts to native species.

ChiefSmokingGun17 karma

If you shaved a polar bear bald, would it be black?

geoffsyork38 karma

Yes! And funny looking.

geoffsyork20 karma

Polar bear skin is black- so yes they would.

Zhiradu15 karma

First, You have the best first name (we share the same first name).

Whats the closest you have been to a polar bear (and cubs)?

Many people go to school studying marine biology hoping to have some amazing experiences living near, and studying exotic animals. How did you get involved in the conservation at Polar Bears International?

geoffsyork29 karma

I've been fortunate to have handled many sedated polar bears and have a had a few close encounters with unsedated bears out on the sea ice.

My path to polar bears was circuitous- involving preparation through university coupled with being career flexible, chance, and having many others open doors.

fusrohdiddly12 karma

How would you describe the smell of a polar bear?

geoffsyork32 karma

In the springtime out on the sea ice they are very clean and smell a bit like the sea.

whatsthehappenstance11 karma

I visited the San Diego Zoo back around 2010 and walked through the polar bear exhibit. One bear positioned it's butt over a tall ledge and proceeded to poop around 30+ turds the size and shape of baseballs & softballs into the water below. It was kind of incredible, yet gross at the same time. Do these types of bowel movements happen in the wild?

geoffsyork12 karma

Very dependent on diet, so we see some changes based on the age and condition of the bear and what it has been eating. When bears are mature or in good shape, they start focusing on eating only fat. That changes still consistency dramatically!

Zhiradu11 karma

I will keep it going. I agree climate change and preservation is important, but why do you feel the need to protect Polar Bears and the impact of climate changes in the Arctic?

Now, the tough question. If you have to give an elevator pitch to convince someone climate change is a serious issue. What do you say to them?

geoffsyork29 karma

Warming is hitting the Arctic 2-3 times faster than other parts of our planet. If we can slow and ultimately reverse warming, we'll stabilize sea ice, protect polar bears, and ultimately allow the Arctic to play it's larger role in stabilizing temperatures were we all live, work and play.

OzymandiasKoK11 karma

Did the other people in school make fun of you for being a polar bear?

geoffsyork22 karma

If I were a polar bear, and was inside a school, I doubt anyone would be brave enough to make fun of me directly. Most would be too busy safely exiting the area!

DaUglyBarnacle10 karma

What influenced you in becoming a polar bear biologist? And what has been the most profound experience you've had thus far in studying or observing polar bears in the wild?

geoffsyork16 karma

The opportunity to travel to Alaska, and ultimately work in the Arctic back in 1991 influenced me heavily and also opened the first doors that led to my work with polar bears. My first job in Biology was helping out with a fisheries project in the Southern Beaufort Sea- radio tracking Arctic Char and whitefish. That experience and those professional connections led me to graduate school, to work with the USGS in AK, and ultimately to where I am today.

Oxzilla8188 karma

Grislys and Polars mating? What's driving this phenomenon and how common is it?

geoffsyork12 karma

Hybridization has only been found in one small part of the Arctic near Victoria Island in NW Canada. The episode involved one PB female and two BB males resulting in two litters. While we do not know for certain, one hypothesis is that active sport harvest in this specific area may have reduced the availability of mature breeding male polar bears at a time when brown bears where actively moving further north.

Just_A_Che_Away8 karma

I don't suppose you're looking to employ a budding biologist? Asking for a friend..

geoffsyork11 karma

While we do not have any current openings- keep checking and look around at opportunities with Northern governments (regional and National) and other NGO's.

belegilgalad8 karma

Hi there. Have you ever had a dangerous experience? Thanks

geoffsyork18 karma

Absolutely. While we try to manage risk when in polar bear country and when operating in the Arctic, Nature loves surprises. I've had a few close encounters and one bite, but luckily nothing serious. We always carry deterrent tools like cracker shells and bear spray along with firearms.

jacerracer6 karma

How likely are they to become extinct in the next 25-50 years? I read that article showing the emaciated bear that explains it is harder for polar bears to get the food they need due to a decrease in polar ice which messes with their food sources? Also, that group of penguins had that horrible season where only two babies survived! It seems like nothing is tipped in their favor right now!

geoffsyork13 karma

Polar bears, like their ringed seal seal prey, are sea ice dependent species. The ice is their habitat much like other animals need grasslands or forests. As we rapidly warm our planet, that sea ice habitat is dramatically and quickly melting away. This leaves polar bears in some regions with less access to their primary food, and with the possibility of spending more and more time on shore waiting for freeze up. As we continue to loose ice over the coming decades- especially if we take limited actions to reduce warming, polar bears are likely to occur in lower numbers and fewer places around the Arctic.

hsilgnede5 karma

Great info. Thanks for doing this and thanks for doing the work you do. If you had to bet $100 on it, do you believe there will be wild polar bears 50 years from now?

geoffsyork13 karma

I sure hope there will be, and I do believe that choice is in our hands today. If we make the right decisions, reduce our burning of fossil fuels for energy, and switch to cleaner sources of power- there is still hope.

tigralfrosie5 karma

Hi! Could you explain how 'walking hibernation' works, and how a bear goes into, and comes out of it, please?

geoffsyork15 karma

Thanks to some great research at the University of Alberta and Environment Canada, years of obtaining bear weights from the Polar Bear Alert holding facility here in Churchill, and a scale purchased by PBI- we now know that there is no such thing as walking hibernation in polar bears.

Mcfinley5 karma

Can Polar Bears successfully breed with other types of bears or are their genetics too distinct to produce offspring?

geoffsyork12 karma

Polar bears have interbred with brown bears recently (in NW Canada near Victoria Island) and historically (through genetic evidence. Those offspring are also capable of reproducing and the most recent case involved one polar bear female and two different brown bear males.

cdn_av8r5 karma

I live in Manitoba and have never seen a wild polar bear. What would be the best time to go to Churchill?

geoffsyork8 karma

While there is year to year variation, the best window over the last few years is from now through mid-November. You can see polar bears here from late July/early August through December in some years, along with beluga whales in the summer and Northern Lights from now through March. Let's just hope the train get's back online to make that trip easier for you!

KingEuronIIIGreyjoy4 karma

What is the cutest thing you've seen a polar bear cub do?

geoffsyork24 karma

Cutest and most frustrating- polar bear mum's will sometimes "cache" their young cubs when they need to hunt or if threatened. While rare, I have seen a sow tuck a cub of the year into a little ice cave that formed in a pressure ridge when we were trying to capture her. She then carried on and we were able to safely sedate her on the ice. We then had to go back and retrieve the cub- which looked incredibly cute sitting down snugly in this little snow and ice cave. Cute until you tried to pick it up and out of that cave, then it became a little polar bear with very sharp teeth and claws!

ScottieScrotumScum3 karma

How big is the average poloar bears excrement?

geoffsyork6 karma

polar bear feces is often quite liquid and the volume depends greatly on both what they have recently eaten, how much, and when.


This is gonna sound stupid.

Have you ever made a polar bear "friend"? Like a close bond with a polar bear and you both look forward to seeing each other and other friend stuff?

Asking for a friend

geoffsyork9 karma

I have not, though some do think that male polar bears form relationships with other male bears and that they may congregate in the same areas each year in places like Wrangel Island and here in Hudson Bay.

tupe123 karma

Besides being more adaptive to cold or the white fur, what makes polar bears different then regular bears?

geoffsyork5 karma

A big difference is their diet. PB's are obligate carnivores and, as we like to say, lipo-vores or fat eaters. While polar bears will consume entire seals depending on their age and body condition, as they both mature and develop higher body condition (get fatter)- they focus more and more on just the fat. It's that source of dense calories that allows them to thrive in the cold environment.

Darnod3 karma

The polar bear is my favorite animal. How do I get to do what you do? I'd love to study and help protect them.

geoffsyork6 karma

Top three recommendations- find a field related to polar bear conservation and then get the training or school you need as a background. Churchill is a great example where there is a blend of nature guides, tundra buggy drivers, scientists, educators, communicators, captive animal experts, and even a couple of chefs who get to work out on the tundra and interact with polar bears. The second and third things are experience: experience working in cold places and experience working with wildlife are both huge plusses when looking for career opportunities or seasonal jobs.

AShadyNecromancer3 karma

How do you think climate change will affect the population of polar bears? And why?

geoffsyork10 karma

If we stay on the current path of warming, we'll ultimately see fewer polar bears in fewer places and they will ultimately be more vulnerable to chance events (successive bad years, disease, oil spilll, etc.) and ultimately more vulnerable to extinction. If on the other hand we take the necessary actions to reduce warming and stabilize sea ice, polar bears, and people too, still have a chance of a brighter future. 39 countries have already seen their carbon emissions peak and are now dropping, renewable energy is growing at an encouraging pace, and there are plenty of other reasons for hope.

fishnchips173 karma

I do not know much about polar bears. Could you tell me what adaptations they have that allow them to go without food for periods of time whilst maintaining body temperature (therefore life) in such extreme conditions? Thanks.

geoffsyork10 karma

They are highly efficient at turning ice seals into polar bear muscle and fat. They can metabolize close to 90% of the fat they ingest, allowing them to build up considerable fat reserves. Pregnant female can double their body weight to get them through months of fasting and lactation- pretty impressive! We also know that polar bears have evolved unique genes that allow them to be "fat" without the negative health impacts found in humans. Pretty amazing animals and highly adapted to life in the cold.

Yubuqq3 karma

How did you get into being one?

geoffsyork6 karma

The opportunity to travel to Alaska, and ultimately work in the Arctic back in 1991 influenced me heavily and also opened the first doors that led to my work with polar bears. My first job in Biology was helping out with a fisheries project in the Southern Beaufort Sea- radio tracking Arctic Char and whitefish. That experience and those professional connections led me to graduate school, to work with the USGS in AK, and ultimately to where I am today.

SpaceCowboyyy3 karma

I remember someone once telling me a fun fact that all polar bears are left handed. Is that really true?

geoffsyork7 karma

While polar bears still surprise us and there is much to learn- decades of observations suggest polar bears use both paws equally well.

8andahalfby113 karma

With the decrease in sea ice, are there any known instances of Polar Bears moving South in seach of new food sources? If not, what environmental or biological elements do you think prevents them from trying to move to warmer regions?

geoffsyork8 karma

We have seen rare cases of individual bears in AK, CA, and RU moving far inland (up to 200 miles) at times of year they should have been out on the ice. It's unclear what their motives may have been, but in general we have seen no southerly shifts in distribution or home range as it takes bears further from the one thing we know they need- sea ice and fat rich ice seals. In many parts of the Arctic, another bear already occupies that niche on the tundra- Barren Ground Grizzly. BGG are the smallest of the brown bears and often considered the most aggressive as they occupy a habitat that is not very productive and have to defend larger home ranges than their southern cousins. They are built for land living and more omnivorous than PB's.

electriclobster2 karma

Did you ever get to hug a polar bear?

geoffsyork6 karma

I've been very fortunate to get out and work with polar bears in their sea ice habitat for 17 capture seasons over the last 20 years of working on polar bear conservation. While we do not hug the bears we capture, we are touching them to obtain the vital measures and samples that let us know how they are doing- an amazing experience!

helloploxxd2 karma

Do polar bears attack walruses?

geoffsyork9 karma

They certainly do, but it is not without risk so is done with care. Walrus tusks can easily wound or kill a polar bear and adult walrus skin is incredibly thick and tough. I have seen several walrus haul outs in Russia with resident male polar bears who often sit adjacent to, and are sometime surrounded by adult, mostly male walrus. They seem to be patiently looking for unattended young, sick, or natural mortalities that might offer easier prey opportunities but often just sit and watch.

keilwerth1 karma

Are you aware of the infamous means to trap a polar bear using nothing more than a saw and a handful of peas?

geoffsyork3 karma

That's a new one to me!