How Climate Change is Harming Polar Bears

The Arctic’s sea ice is melting at an incredibly fast rate, making it difficult for marine mammals like beluga whales and seals to survive in the icy tundra. But the most endangered species in the Arctic is the polar bear, as food is becoming harder to find and resting areas are shrinking.

Polar bears are big – we’re talking between 330 to 1,300 pounds big. Most of their weight comes from fat, which is needed for energy to hunt and run in the extremely cold environment of the Arctic. But they especially need the fat for insulation when they go swimming from sea ice island to sea ice island.

With thick layers of fat and two coats of fur, polar bears have a high risk of overheating. This is why the bears only sprint short distances and walk at a leisurely pace. But with an amazing sense of smell, polar bears do not need to chase their prey. Polar bears can smell a seal from 20 miles away, and the bears can sniff out a seal from its den from one mile away. With no natural predators and a strong nose, these bears are at the top of the Arctic food chain. However, polar bears can’t stay on top if global temperatures continue to rise.

 

Polar bears moving across the tundra
By USFWS – images.fws.gov (image description page), Public Domain

 

Global warming is the biggest threat to these magnificent bears. Polar bears are spending more time on dry land, making it difficult for the bears to hunt prey. Since Territory is not a concern to polar bears, they travel very long distances in search of their meals. Polar bears have been know to have a home range of a few hundred miles, according to polarbearinternational.org, one female bear was tracked traveling 2,980 miles—from Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay to Greenland to Canada’s Ellesmere Island and back to Greenland. And with sea ice melting, polar bears are forced to swim longer distances which raises the potential for drowning.

Polar bears captivate our attention, they are smart, playful, and beautiful animals. But their depleting numbers are a sobering reminder of the potential effects of climate change. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature there are between 22,000 and 31,000 polar bears in the world, but a 30% drop in population is expected by 2050. Our habits can make a big difference against global warming and in turn help the polar bears and other wildlife of the Arctic waters. We can reduce carbon emissions and begin to rely more on renewable energy as opposed to fossil fuels. Also, we can learn more about conservation through websites like http://polarbearsinternational.org/ and https://www.worldwildlife.org/. We cannot stop global warming overnight, but we can certainly slow it down until we find lasting solutions.

 

polar bears investigate a submarine
Three Polar bears approach the starboard bow of the Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Honolulu (SSN 718) while surfaced 280 miles from the North Pole. Source

More Facts About Polar Bears:

  • Polar bears inhabit five different nations: the United States (Alaska), Canada, Russia, Greenland, and Norway.
  • Its scientific name is Ursus maritimus, meaning “sea bear.”
  • Although polar bears are marine mammals, they also are the world‘s largest land-based carnivore.
  • Scientists believe that polar bears are descendents of the brown bear.
  • The outer layer of fur is hollow and reflects light which gives the polar bears’ white appearance
  • Polar bears can run as fast as 25 miles per hour, but for very short distances.
  • Nose-to-nose greetings are the way that a bear asks another bear for something, such as food.
  • The word Arctic comes from the Greek word for bear, and Antarctic comes from the Greek meaning the opposite, without bear.

July 26, 2017

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