Earth Day Network

What’s the Plan to Save the Polar Bears?

Polar bears prowl the arctic ice entrancing millions around the world. They are the world’s largest carnivorous mammal, storing layers of fat and needing large amounts of food to allow their survival through the summer months. Relying primarily on sea ice as their hunting grounds, polar bears roamed the arctic free until the 1970’s where the first major decline in sea ice began.

Climate change is to blame. Without sea ice, polar bears may be extinct before the end of the century.

The overall polar bear population has also been on a steady decline since 2008 when the U.S. Department of the Interior listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, citing the melting of Arctic sea ice as the primary threat to the polar bear.  Currently, with Arctic ice melting 10% per decade, two-thirds of polar bears would most likely disappear by 2050. This would mean that the current population of approximately 25,000 bears would be reduced to approximately 8,000 or less. But the major population crash has yet to occur, according to a U.S. Geological Survey, which states that the polar bear populations of Alaska, Russia and Norway, which make up one-third of the world’s population of polar bears, are likely to begin plummeting by 2025, caused by the decline of Arctic sea ice.

Why is sea ice so important to the polar bears?

Sea ice provides a platform for polar bears to hunt, live, breed, and in some cases create maternal dens. Polar bears are a migratory species spending the winters on the arctic ice and the summers in Canada, Alaska, Russia and other countries which border the Arctic. In the winter, polar bears hunt seals by waiting at the edges of air holes in the ice and striking when a seal comes to the surface. Also, seal breeding ground in ice caves provide easy prey for polar bears. As the arctic ice has declined, the habitat and hunting grounds of polar bears has declined while the distance swum during the migration to and from the arctic ice has increased. In 2011, researchers recorded a polar bear swimming an astounding 9 days (427 miles) to reach the arctic ice, losing her cub and 22% of her body mass. If the decline of arctic ice continues there will be a point where the polar bears cannot reach their winter habitats, most certainly leading to extinction.

The plan to save the polar bears.

Climate change and global warming resulting in the decline of arctic ice are the main elements which need to be stopped in order to save the polar bears. But in the current world stopping these completely would be nearly impossible. Instead, a more viable solution would be to stabilize emissions which would increase the likelihood of polar bear survival.. Todd Atwood, a senior researcher with U.S. Geological Survey explains that there is an important differentiation between increasing emissions and stabilized emissions. “If we allow emissions to increase as usual, there is an approximately 75 percent chance of “severely decreased” polar bear populations in most regions. But if we can stabilize emissions, the likelihood of “severely decreased” populations decreases by about 25 percent”. Furthermore Atwood also states that “If we can [stabilize emissions], we can forestall the transition to a greatly decreased state by about 25 years” which would allow time for further innovations to save the polar bears. Using this plan the polar bears would have a much larger likelihood of survival and would have decreased chances of a “severely decreased state”.

Atwood leaves us with a warning: “What’s happening is not going to stay in the Arctic, and not just going to affect the polar bear”. If humanity wants to save the polar bear and prevent other possible animal extinctions then we need to act now.

Cyrus Crevits, Intern

Earth Day is April 22, 2017
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