Presentation on theme: "By Emma B. Lawrence June 2014. The animals and plants of the Arctic Circle are persistent in their fight for survival in the harsh conditions of their."— Presentation transcript:
The animals and plants of the Arctic Circle are persistent in their fight for survival in the harsh conditions of their habitat, and are strong enough to withstand the difficult climate of where they live. However, pollution and other changes caused by humans, as well as humans themselves, can be harmful to the environment. Although the animals and plants of Svalbard are strong enough to survive in the Arctic Circle, they are easily harmed by man. It is important for us to preserve them and their habitat.
In June 2014, aboard the National Geographic Explorer, I went on a Lindblad Expedition to Arctic Svalbard. There I learned about the fascinating environment of the Arctic Circle and the challenging conditions there. I learned that we need to protect and preserve the wildlife and its habitat.
One of the animals affected by warmer oceans and melting sea ice is the seal. The seal pictured here is a bearded seal. It gets its name from its long, thick whiskers, which it uses to feel for clams and other shellfish under water. The seal rests on the edge of the sea ice in case it needs to make a quick escape from a hungry polar bear.
The sea ice is important for many animals, including birds. They use it to rest on between flights. They also fish from the ice. Diminishing sea ice is a threat to them.
On my trip in June, there was sunlight twenty-four hours a day. We saw lots of birds taking advantage of the constant light, both on the sea ice and on land (such as the geese flying here). The birds were mainly nesting and doing things that would be more difficult to do in the four months of darkness during winter. Many animals have had to adjust to the long periods of daylight and darkness of the Arctic year.
During our trip, we went kayaking. The first time we went, I saw a red phalarope. It is a land and water bird. It has developed an interesting strategy for feeding in order to survive: the phalarope will swim quickly in small circles, making a sort of whirlpool that churns up small bits of food such as small insects and crustaceans.
On our expedition, we saw hundreds of thousands of birds nesting on cliffs. They are called little skuas. Like some other birds, they probably would have evolved to lose their ability to fly because they only hunt in the water. However, they did not lose this ability because of their need to escape from predators. Nevertheless, it is slightly difficult for them to fly, especially after they have eaten a lot because they are heavy-boned birds. They take a while to take off and usually run over the water, beating the water’s surface with their wings until they lift off. When they fly, it looks rather like they are flailing their wings about, or trying to swim through the air, which is kind of funny because they basically fly through the water when they hunt for fish.
Thousands of birds nesting together attracts predators. One such bird cliff we visited was called “Nagging Cliff” because of the racket that thousands of cawing kittiwakes make there. An Arctic fox lives at the bottom of the cliff, looking for birds, chicks, or eggs that have fallen off the cliff. Arctic foxes were hunted heavily by man for their pelts. They were mainly hunted in winter because the foxes’ white winter coats were more valuable than their brown and grey summer coats. The fox is one of my favorite Arctic animals—although I know the birds would not agree with me!
At the foot of the “Nagging Cliff” were huge patches of purple saxifrage. The dome-like shape in which they are clumped is a common way for plants to grow in the Arctic Circle for insulation and protection. The dome shape also helps the flowers grow by giving each blossom a chance to catch sunlight. They have evolved to be able to grow in the thin layer of soil over the permafrost (the permanently frozen ground a few feet under the soil), adding beautiful touches of color to the Arctic landscape.
Another kind of flower we saw was the tufted saxifrage (above left), which is in the same family as the purple saxifrage. It also grows in a dome shape. It is amazing how it survives on the rocks in the cold, harsh, weather, but will be damaged easily if someone steps on it. Also growing on the rocks by the tufted saxifrage was lichen (above right), which my sister loves because of its bright orange color. Lichen is incredibly resistant.
On the trip, we also saw reindeer. The animal category that reindeer are in is called “ungulates.” Also in this category are other hooved animals, such as moose, rams, cows, giraffes, hippopotamuses, and camels. Arctic reindeer have different body proportions than other ungulates. They have smaller ears, legs, and tails. This helps them conserve body heat: the smaller the body part, the less heat lost. Reindeer also have big noses like moose to keep from loosing heat. They evolved like this to better resist the cold climate of the Arctic.
On our expedition, we were excited to see walruses. They are in an animal group called pinnipeds. This group includes seals, walruses, and sea lions. Like the bearded seal, walruses have thick, bushy whiskers which they use to feel for shellfish. Some walruses also eat seals. Walruses were hunted heavily by humans and disappeared in great numbers, but after laws were made protecting walruses, they made an impressive comeback. Walruses love lying all over each other and sleep a lot. I enjoyed watching them flop lazily over each other as they napped on the beach. Walruses relaxing after a long swim Walrus bones left behind by hunters
Tragically, humans have killed many animals in the Arctic Circle. Some animals that were hunted were whales for blubber and walruses for their thick skin and ivory tusks. Whale bone was also used for such products as umbrellas and corsets. Man can be a terrible threat to the wildlife, though, of course, animals also die of natural causes in the Arctic. A whale vertebrae discarded by hunters A reindeer skull from a naturally deceased reindeer
On our expedition, we were fortunate to see seven polar bears. Sadly, polar bears are endangered. Previously, people hunted polar bears using traps that did not make any exceptions as to which polar bears they killed. As a result, many pregnant females and cubs were killed. This was devastating for the polar bear population. Now polar bears are threatened because the ice that they live on is quickly melting.
Global Warming affects the snow and ice of the Arctic Circle. I was amazed to see this awe-inspiring ice cap, which is the third largest ice cap in the world. Unfortunately, it is gradually getting smaller. Standing on the bow of our ship, I could see water running off of the melting ice cap.
It is important that we study the Arctic so that we can learn to preserve it and help it thrive. On our ship there were naturalists, scientists, and teachers from whom we learned much about the natural environment of Arctic Svalbard. After my expedition, I was newly aware of the great fragility of the majestic north.
The future of the Arctic lies in our hands. Let us preserve its beauty.