The North pole and Arctic region are built upon polar ice supported by the Arctic ocean, while the South pole and Antarctic region lies on the continent of Antarctica.
Due to the axis tilt of the earth, our polar regions are the ones defined by climate extremities and frigid environments. The geographical placement of the poles also causes them to receive the least amount of sunlight on earth.
The harsh environment of the poles is manifested by extreme temperatures, ice cold winds and water, and a land mass made up of heavy glaciation. Daylight hours vary immensely; depending on the time of year the poles can experience complete darkness or constant light.
In the Arctic, human settlements vary in culture, numbers, and beliefs. Countries such as the U.S. (Alaska), Canada, Greenland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia have land which is part of the arctic region, and their communities merge with the environment to create unique societies. Day to day life in the arctic is hard to imagine, as it certainly harbors little resemblance to the common lifestyle of populated, heavily developed and significantly warmer settlements on earth.
Antarctica is a world where humans have not dared venture and set up camp for good. Despite research stations and temporary workers, scientists, and explorers, the land has always been void of human settlement. However, despite having no permanent human residents, Antarctica is home to a vast ecosystem full of life.
Along with the arctic region, Antarctica is home for a multitude of wildlife species, living both on land and within the coastal zones.
Along the coast, massive 'upwellings' (upward-moving nutrient rich water) contain Krill, which in turn provides nourishment to small and large species. From Penguins to the majestic Blue Whale, the antarctic ocean gives and supports life, even in the harshest of environments.
An area expanding some 50 million square kilometers around the continent of Antarctica, this designated ocean terrain makes up the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Established in 1994 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banning all commercial whaling operations within the sanctuary, this vast region is meant to be a safe haven for Minke, Sei, Fin, Humpback and Sperm whales who rely on the southern ocean for important summer feeding grounds. However, whaling nations such as Japan have openly refused to stop hunting whales in the sanctuary, and have stood behind the claim they are participating in 'scientific research' when collecting whales. Multiple nations oppose Japan's whaling; claiming 'scientific research' is only an excuse to continue profitable commercial whaling operations. Since the Moratorium on Whaling in 1986, Japan, Norway, and Iceland have continued hunting whales for commercial purposes, even as many whale species were being pushed to the brink of extinction.
Conservation groups, environmentalists and activists have generated global awareness to the fact that every summer season in Antarctica, when huge Plankton blooms attract large populations of whales, Japan hunts and kills as many as 1,000 whales in the name of science. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who believe Japan is acting in direct violation of the 1986 Moratorium on Whaling and the IWC's establishment of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, act as an environmental enforcement team, directly intervening Japanese whalers in Antarctica in the hopes of shutting down their fleet permanently.
Recently having returned from their 8th consecutive year in the Antarctica Whale Sanctuary, Sea Shepherd has worked diligently with its team of dedicated volunteers and with every summer season has become stronger and more effective in their mission to halt Japanese whaling operations. Led by founder Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd acts in defense of whales and various marine life being exploited by humans, and operate under the premise that if there is no international enforcement agency defending international conservation regulations, they shall defend the defenseless.
Every year from December through March, the Japanese whaling fleet travel to Antarctica to hunt whales and fulfill their quotas during the 'research' season. The Australian Antarctic division (2012) states that over 1.3 million whales have been taken from Antarctica so far this century.
Despite strong anti-whaling lobbying from countries such as the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, and New Zealand, new proposals are often derailed by pro-whaling nations, further delaying any real improvement in regulating whaling around the world. Japan can easily manipulate the grey area in the whaling convention where scientific whaling for research is permitted, and without a legal entity to enforce provisions of the International Whaling Commission, whaling nations will continue to hunt where and when they please, with little concern for whales or the rest of the world.
If whaling is to finally end, it is because people around the world will have stood up in protest of the continual disregard for animal welfare and international conservation regulations, and insist upon a network of enforcement bodies capable of bringing justice on the high seas of Antarctica, and to the rest of the planet's threatened marine regions.
Citation: Michelle Simons."Japan's whaling in Antarctica". Earth Times. 31.03.12. http://www.earthtimes.org/green-blogs/green-opinions/japan-whaling-antarctica-30-Mar-12/. "Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary". Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Ocean_Whale_Sanctuary. "Japanese fleet catches 267 Antarctic whales". Daily Yomiuri Online. http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120331003098.htm
In the Polar regions, challenging living conditions require its inhabitants to develop coping mechanisms and ways in which to survive in a volatile environment.
Emperor Penguins are among the most fascinating and entertaining creatures to witness in the wild. Thankfully explorers and photographers venturing to the bleakest corners of the world are capturing some incredible behaviors and learning about intrinsic character traits they can in turn share with the rest of the world.
The body shape of Emperor Penguins facilitates their streamlined movements in the water. The adorable penguin 'wobble' visible when they are moving on land confirms these animals are simply built to swim, not walk!
However, researchers have now proved that not only do Emperor penguins fly through the water, they have a specific technique to ensure they gain momentum, speed, and enough propulsion in the water to break the surface and leap onto land, becoming momentarily airborne.
Given they have little in the way of legs, penguins put a lot of effort to successfully get ashore. After analyzing repeated behaviors, scientists are confidant that Emperor penguins use the air compressed beneath their feathers while submerged to create a 'lubrication' effect when swimming quickly.
When a penguin leaps into the water, air is trapped under their unique feathers and becomes more dense as the animal dives deeper. Once ascending, the air begins to expand and is released to coat the penguin's body, significantly reducing drag as they push towards the surface. This phenomenon helps penguins reach speeds of 19 km/hour while swimming, and allows them to break the surface gaining enough 'airborne' time to fly onto shore, landing happily unscathed on their breast.
This type of "air insulation" is a widely known technique studied and used by boat engineers to maximise ship speed at sea.
Commonly known as the "Unicorn of the Sea", the Narwhal is a fascinating and unique resident of the Arctic waters around Canada and Greenland.
The Narwhal's unique appearance is due to a huge tusk, a second tooth, that grows out of the animal's top jaw. Reaching lengths of 2.5 meters and weighing up to 10 Kilograms, this 'unicorn' has no formal use and has never been seen as a fighting tools in males.
Perfectly adapted for life in the Arctic, Narwhals use echolocation to map our holes in the ice so they can reach the surface for a breath. Staying close to loose pack ice, Narwhals must be very precise in order to find enough breathing holes to survive.
Narwhals are still hunted by the Inuit people of Canada for their tusks and meat, and are especially vulnerable to the impacts of Climate Change on the Arctic environment.