Polar bears already face a number of perils: melting ice, grolar bears, Sarah Palin. Now it seems there may be even more bad news for bears. According to a BBC article, California scientists are giving hearing tests to polar bears to find out whether they could be adversely affected by increased noise from Arctic urbanization.

Normally, the Artic is pretty darn quiet, a good thing for bears considering that they have extremely sensitive little ears. But as the ice melts, people will start to move in, and like any rural area that’s suffered at the hands of industrialization and urbanization, it’s going to create a lot of noise. 

According to the article, noisiness can negatively affect polar bears, which have a much larger hearing range than humans. For one, if bears can’t hear each other over long distances, their breeding patterns could be disrupted because they won’t be able to find each other to mate. Even worse, the animals may hear unfamiliar noises from industrial operations and, thinking those noises indicate food, could be led astray into potentially dangerous areas.

But as the researchers note, noise’s effects on polar bears is about more than just harming the bears’ delicate hearing. Problems with the bear indicate a much broader problem for the Arctic environment in general. As one researcher cited in the article explains, "The polar bear is the apex, so we model them as being the top predator. When things are happening to them, they're also happening to all of the wildlife underneath them - the seals, the fish, the invertebrates, all the Arctic food web. This is about looking at the collapse of an entire ecosystem.”

Whether the untouched Arctic will fall victim to urbanization is yet to be seen. In the meantime, check out this video where a researcher performs a hearing test on a cute polar bear named Charly. Hopefully for the bears’ sake, it might make suburbanites think twice about disrupting an entire species (and ecosystem) just so they can get an Alaskan lakeside home like the Palins’, which is currently worth $526,800.  

Not bad for a hockey mom.

Story by Jessica A. Knoblauch. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008