An oil company operating in Alaska has proven to be an ally in protecting a pregnant polar bear. The bear sought to dig a maternity den in a snow drift along a bridge leading to an artificial production island off the north coast of Alaska, reports Dan Joling from the Associated Press.
Hilcorp Alaska LLC took “vigorous measures” to make sure the bear has the peaceful pregnancy she’s entitled to by law as a threatened species. The bears are considered threatened due to a warming climate that is melting their primary habitat.
Polar bear mothers often create what’s called a “maternity den” that shelters the baby cub when its born. These dens can be critical for keeping the cubs safe, since the survival rate of newborn cubs is only 50 percent. Hilcorp wanted to ensure the baby’s mother was not disturbed, which can cause a mother to abandon her baby.
Hilcorp, like many other oil companies who are working near areas where dens are created, use planes with infrared to detect bears in dens. In this case, found the bear near the artificial island and protected it by restricting traffic, monitoring the den and keeping its environment quiet.
“Typically [bears] pick locations that are away from oil field infrastructure,” said Beth Sharp, Hilcorp’s habitat and wildlife specialist, who has worked on Alaska’s North Slope for nearly two decades.
The AP reported that Hilcorp and the Fish and Wildlife Service worked together to create a plan to minimize disturbance and keep the bear safe. They emerged from the den on March 18, and spent a couple of weeks nearby. Now, the pair is off to the sea ice to hunt seals.
As climate conditions are changing, more bears are making maternity dens on land, meaning that oil companies in Alaska will have to stay on the lookout for the increasing chance this situation could reoccur. So far, it seems Hilcorp has been a good guardian for Mama Bear and her cub as well as a good role model for how to handle such a situation.