A partnership to protect polar bears

February 4, 2018

What do the Amerks and polar bears have in common? They both depend on ice! While the former requires ice to play a hockey game, the latter requires ice for survival. Rapidly increasing rates of receding sea ice in the Arctic pose a serious threat to polar bears and their ability to hunt their main prey, seals. In response, the Amerks and Seneca Park Zoo Society have teamed up for Defend the Ice Month. The entire month of February is dedicated to raising awareness of polar bear conservation and highlighting how the community can help make a difference.

Ice is so important to polar bears because it provides the platform on which to hunt seals. Just like humans, seals are air-breathing mammals that must resurface eventually while swimming. Polar bears are well aware of this, and will wait hours by a breathing hole, which is essentially an opening in the ice, until a seal pops up for a breath of air. Seals contain large stores of fatty blubber essential for sustaining polar bears through the long and brutal Arctic winters. However, increasing atmospheric temperatures are causing sea ice to melt at an unprecedented rate, leaving behind fewer breathing holes and hence fewer opportunities for polar bears to hunt. With less fatty nourishment from seals, polar bear populations have declined sharply in recent years.

Although the future of polar bears in a changing Arctic may seem bleak, there are many ways you can help at home, at the Zoo, or even at a hockey game. Simple actions to reduce one’s carbon footprint, such as turning down the thermostat a couple degrees during the colder months and consuming less meat, helps to depress increasing atmospheric temperatures – the main culprit behind receding sea ice. In addition, the Amerks and Zoo Society have partnered up to provide exciting new – and fun – ways to help this February as part of Defend the Ice Month.

At the Zoo, guests can help by joining us during Polar Bear Awareness Weekend from February 24-25. Along with interpreted enrichment demos with the Zoo’s polar bear Aurora, interactive games, and BioFact stations highlighting the polar bear’s unique adaptations, guests will have the opportunity to enjoy a special meet and greet with Amerks players on Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Guests will also have the chance to enter multiple drawings on Sunday for signed Amerks merchandise and a behind-the-scenes tour of Rocky Coasts with the Amerks players. All proceeds will go towards Polar Bears International (PBI), a conservation partner of the Zoo and nonprofit organization working towards a better future for polar bears through research, education, and community programs.

The Zoo's resident polar bear, Aurora. Photo by Marie Kraus.

Hockey fans can also support PBI by attending any Amerks home game during the month of February. On February 2, 16, and 18, the ZooMobile will be at Blue Cross Arena with live animals and BioFacts. On February 23, join us for “Defend the Ice Night” where there will be an auction to win a custom game jersey worn by Amerks players that night! All proceeds will go to the Seneca Park Zoo Society and Polar Bears International. Rochester may appear worlds away from the Arctic, yet there are so many ways we can help locally to promote a better future for Aurora’s counterparts in their natural ranges.

– Karen Wu, Lead Interpreter