We’ve reached the Elite 8 in March Sadness — ClimateProgress’ educational bracket tournament of animals impacted by climate change and other environmental threats. For whichever animal wins, ClimateProgress will write a feature-length article exploring the story behind what’s ailing your chosen critter, and who is working to save them. Read the rules here.
We’re down to the wire. Yesterday, the speedy Peregrine Falcon overtook the supple Butterfly to become the only winged creature to reach the Elite 8. And Sea Turtle sailed past the Red Knot to clinch the title of our only shelled finalist.
Today, the final two winners of our Paws & Claws and Fins & Flippers divisions will go head to head. And because we’ve reached the next round, we’ll provide a little more information on what’s threatening each animal. Polar Bear, Wolverine, Sea Otter, Seahorse — which two will make it to the Final Four? Only your votes can decide. Vote in the embedded tweets below, on Twitter with the hashtag #CPMarchSadness, or on our Facebook page.
Polar Bear vs. Wolverine
Polar Bear: The World Wildlife Fund lists climate change as the biggest threat to Polar Bears. That has to do with the loss of sea ice in the Arctic, which threatens not only the polar bear but its main prey — seals — which depend on sea ice to raise their young and rest. That, plus the fact that less ice coverage of the Arctic Sea means bears have less time on the ice to hunt, has put the animals at risk of starvation. Indeed, the number one cause of death for cubs right now is a lack of food, or lack of fat on nursing mothers.
Still, as we noted last time, the climate story behind these iconic bears has become complicated and controversial. In a small number of cases, polar bears have defied the odds, and in those cases their success story has become fodder for conservatives to support their argument that climate change isn’t real. At the same time, most scientists agree polar bears are in danger of extinction as the planet warms.
In addition to climate change, oil and gas exploration in the Arctic is exposing bears to human activity, and putting them at risk of habitat destruction and poisoning via oil spill. This is rapidly becoming a more pressing concern for environmentalists, as the U.S. just gave approval to Shell Oil for it to return to the area for oil and gas exploration.
Wolverine: So far, we’ve talked a lot about how wolverines need it to be cold to survive. They rely on deep, consistent snow in the American West — snow that lasts late into the spring for breeding. So as snowpacks across that area of the country diminish, the overall evidence is stacked heavily against them in the coming decades.
What’s more, the wolverine already neared extinction early last century after hunting and trapping dwindled its numbers even lower than they are today. Now, climate change exacerbates that threat — according to the Center for Biological Diversity, snow melt in the Rockies is occurring about two weeks earlier now than it did in the 1960s and over the next 75 years climate change is projected to wipe out 63 percent of the snowy habitat wolverines they need to survive.
A proposal to put the wolverine on the Endangered Species Act received strong support from five of seven peer reviewers as well as a separate, nine-person independent science panel convened in April to review the science underlying the proposal. Despite this, though, the U.S. has decided against listing the wolverine on the Endangered Species Act — mostly just because of the uncertainty of how bad climate change will be.
Which will move on? Vote below.
— Climate Progress (@climateprogress) April 1, 2015
Sea Otter vs. Seahorse
Sea Otter: We’ve mentioned that sea otters are threatened by toxic algal blooms, which are exacerbated by climate change. A 2010 study found that a toxin found in blue-green algae called microcystin had killed at least 21 California sea otters. In addition, severe weather can make it difficult for sea otters to forage for and find food. According to the IUCN, this can make it hard for otters “to meet their high metabolic needs, leading to malnutrition or starvation.”
But sea otters’ relationship with climate change goes two ways. The marine creatures also serve as fighters of climate change: their main prey — sea urchins — like to eat kelp, so by keeping the sea urchin population at a sustainable level, they keep kelp forests lush. And kelp forests are good at storing carbon: a study in 2012 found; that the presence of otters helped carbon storage in kelp forests on the West Coast of North American increase by 8.7 million metric tons.
“Right now, all the climate change models and proposed methods of sequestering carbon ignore animals. But animals the world over, working in different ways to influence the carbon cycle, might actually have a large impact,” UC Santa Cruz professor Chris Wilmers, co-author of the 2012 study on otters, said in a statement. “If ecologists can get a better handle on what these impacts are, there might be opportunities for win-win conservation scenarios, whereby animal species are protected or enhanced, and carbon gets sequestered.”
Seahorse: Last time we talked about seahorses, we mentioned their fragile coastal ecosystems — coral reefs and mangroves, which are especially vulnerable to disturbances brought on by warming ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and increased flooding.
We also talked about habitat degradation due to development and pollution. In the U.S. the dwarf seahorse, one-inch-long seahorse, found in seagrass beds in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida and the Caribbean, is threatened with extinction due to decline of seagrass and lingering pollution from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists 49 of 50 species of seahorses as vulnerable or threatened.
But another issue facing seahorses is accidental fishing. Fishermen don’t mean to catch seahorses, but because of warming waters, these once sup-tropical creatures are migrating, and finding their way into nets. As ocean temperatures around Cape Cod and in the Gulf of Maine reach record highs, for example, fishermen have started to notice the common seahorse proliferate their lines and nets.
Which would you like to see in the final four for a chance at a feature story? Vote below.
***TOURNAMENT UPDATES:Day 1–3/19: Paws and Claws pt. 1 — Polar Bear vs. Wombat; Tasmanian Devil vs. Pangolin; (voting closed) WINNERS: Polar Bear and Pangolin.Day 2–3/20: Paws and Claws pt. 2 — Lemur vs. Koala; Panda vs. Wolverine (voting closed) WINNERS: Koala and Wolverine.Day 3–3/23: Fins and Flippers — Sea Lion vs. Sea Horse; Penguin vs. Manatee; Walrus vs. Sea Otter; Whale vs. Salmon (voting closed) WINNERS: Sea Horse, Sea Otter, Whale, and Penguin.Day 4–3/24: Horns and Hooves — Elephant vs. Horned Lizard; Rhino vs. Narwhal; Saola vs. Moose; Mountain Goat vs. Reindeer (voting closed) WINNERS: Elephant, Narwhal, Moose, and Mountain Goat.Day 5–3/25: Shells and Wings — Sea Turtle vs. Pelican; Sage Grouse vs. Peregrine Falcon; Oyster vs. Butterfly; Lobster vs. Red Knot (voting closed) WINNERS: Sea Turtle, Falcon, Butterfly, Red Knot.Day 6–3/26: Polar Bear vs. Pangolin; Koala vs. Wolverine (voting closed) WINNERS: Polar Bear, Wolverine.Day 7–3/27: Sea Horse vs. Whale; Sea Otter vs. Penguin (voting closed) WINNERS: Sea Horse, Sea Otter.Day 8–3/30: Elephant vs. Mountain Goat; Moose vs. Narwhal (voting closed) WINNERS: Elephant, Narwhal.Day 9–3/31: Sea Turtle vs. Red Knot; Butterfly vs. Peregrine Falcon (voting closed) WINNERS: Sea Turtle, Peregrine Falcon.Day 10–4/1: Polar Bear vs. Wolverine; Sea Horse vs. Sea Otter (voting closed) Day 11–4/3: Elephant vs. Narwhal; Sea Turtle vs. Peregrine Falcon (voting NOW OPEN)Day 12–4/6: THE FINAL FOUR: TBD Day 13–4/7: THE CHAMPIONSHIP: TBD
PAST ROUNDS:Round 10: Elite Eight, part 1Round 9: Sweet Sixteen, part 4Round 8: Sweet Sixteen, part 3Round 7: Sweet Sixteen, part 2Round 6: Sweet Sixteen, part 1Round 5: Shells and WingsRound 4: Horns and HoovesRound 3: Fins and FlippersRound 2: Paws and Claws, part 2Round 1: Paws and Claws, part 1