Polar Bears in Trouble
Mini Fact: Polar bears have lots of body fat, which helps keep them warm in the water and helps them float.
The beautiful, powerful polar bear is in danger. Polar bears spend most of their lives on floating ice in the sea. But that ice is melting, and polar bears have nowhere else to go.
Since 2008, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has listed polar bears as “threatened” to give more protection to them and their habitat.
Polar bears can live only in places where the sea is covered with ice most of the year. They use the ice to access their main food, seals. Their home is in the north, the Arctic.
There are about 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the world. More than two-thirds of them live in North America. There are five countries that have polar bears: the United States (northern Alaska), Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia.
Many polar bears stay on sea ice all year, spending only short periods on land. Scientists say there has been more ice loss than normal in the last 30 years. In the last decade, the melting has sped up even more.
Polar bear bodies
Polar bears are totally adapted for life in Arctic areas. They are better suited for swimming or walking on the ice than for walking on land.
They depend on the huge number of calories provided from the fat of the seals they eat. Land animals do not provide enough calories to keep polar bears alive.
Mother bears start coming out of their dens to hunt around March. They have been living on their body fat and may not have had anything to eat for about eight months. They need food fast to survive and help their cubs. If there is not enough nearby ice, the mother may have to swim to new areas, which can be dangerous for tiny cubs.
The importance of ice
In Alaska, bears do much of their hunting from ice close to, or attached to, the shoreline. Now, however, much of the ice is far from land. It can be 200 miles out during the summer. Polar bears are good swimmers, but they cannot swim endlessly or in high waves for very long. If they swim too long, they could drown before reaching the next ice floe.
In one of the main polar bear habitats in Canada, scientists have found that ice is melting four weeks earlier than it did 30 years ago. This means there is less time for bears to hunt seals. They are not getting enough to eat. Bears in this area have been losing weight they need.
An uncertain future
Most experts believe climate change is the reason polar bears are in trouble. A small population of polar bears will probably survive into 2100, but they will completely disappear if we lose all the sea ice. Luckily, we have the power to change this.