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Polar bear sightings stir climate debate

August 22, 2008 | 11:20 am

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Federal wildlife monitors spotted nine polar bears in one day swimming in the open ocean off Alaska's northwest coast -- prompting environmental groups to say the sightings are a strong signal that diminished sea ice brought on by global warming has put U.S. bears at risk of drowning or dying from fatigue.

The Associated Press reports:

Summer sea ice last year shrunk to a record low, about 1.65 million square miles in September, nearly 40% less than the long-term average between 1979 and 2000 and most climate modelers predict a continued downward spiral, possibly with an Arctic Ocean that's ice free during summer months by 2030 or sooner.

Conservation groups fear that one consequence of less ice will be more energy-sapping, long-distance swims by polar bears trying to reach feeding, mating or denning areas.

The nine bears were spotted on a flight by a marine contractor, Science Applications International Corp., hired for the Minerals Management Service in advance of future offshore oil development.

The MMS in February leased 2.76 million acres within an offshore area slightly smaller than Pennsylvania.

To catch up on polar bear news around the world and their role in the ongoing controversy over the Endangered Species Act, check out L.A. Unleashed's archives.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

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Photo on top; bottom: World Wildlife Fund;Jonathan Hayward/Associated Press

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