Arctic polar bears face a serious threat of extinction by the end of this century as sea ice continues to disappear in the midst of global warming.
The bears use ice chunks as habitat and for hunting seals.
But since satellite records were initiated in the late 1970s, those ice islands which exist for at least a year have declined by a staggering 13% per decade.
As more ice melts due to rising sea temperatures, the bears are forced to swim longer distances and to roam further across the land to find food.
This is particularity concerning for female polar bears, who must store enough fat to feed their cubs.
In a new study, researchers have worked out that the endurance limit of polar bears cannot be stretched much further than it currently is.
To put it simply, more and more bears will not have sufficient energy to reach their food sources and will starve.
And even if adult bears are able to scrounge food for themselves, females won’t have enough fat to produce milk, which will be a death sentence for cubs.
Still a faint glimmer of hope for polar bears
Time is fast running out. In some parts of the Arctic, the effects of climate change are already being seen on polar bear populations.
Under the current high gas emissions scenario, scientists believe that the large majority of bears will be wiped off the planet by 2100.
But if an international effort is made to curb gas emissions, there may still be a chance to save this iconic species:
“The trajectory we’re on now is not a good one,” said Dr. Steven Amstrup, chief scientist of Polar Bears International. “But if society gets its act together, we have time to save polar bears. And if we do, we will benefit the rest of life on Earth, including ourselves.”
Polar bears are the largest land carnivores. They also face threats from hunting, pollution, and oil and gas developments.
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Image Credit: Sergei Uriadnikov