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 Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Your Daily Break -

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.

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.

pho­tos cour­tesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Ser­vice

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