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No one is safe from the harsh effects of global warming. But if there is one species which suffers the most, they are the polar bears who can only survive under extremely cold climate. Although their actual population is hard to determine, they are believed to be around 20,000 to 25, 000 found throughout the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas (World Wildlife Organization). Polar bears’ habitat is almost covered by sea ice all year round (Great Bear Organization). The area is said to have a fragile ecosystem, requiring longer time to change and to recover when disrupted or damaged.
However, research shows that the Arctic is most likely to be ice free between 2013 and 2040 for the first time in history. The region has been experiencing thinning of the polar ice cap due to warming of temperatures. With the melting of the ice comes the destruction of the life of the species which thrives in the Arctic. Polar bears, seals, including endangered species like walruses and whales, are forced to retreat to environment less suitable for their make up.
Further, scientists fear that large amounts of melted ice enter the North Atlantic and disrupt the global current pattern. The melting of the Arctic ice also entails smaller hunting area for polar bears. Seals are their favorite and they cannot track them where the sea is unfrozen. They also eat plants, including berries, roots, and kelp, but none of these can satisfy their calorie requirement. Their body needs large amount of fats from marine animals for they are active year-round.
Reduction in Arctic sea ice can lead to 67 percent loss of the entire polar bear population in 50 years (Bear Planet Organization). Though polar bears are exposed to other risks such as pollution, oil and gas exploration, legal and illegal hunting, global warming remains the biggest threat to their survival. They experience malnutrition and starvation due to habitat loss. Melting ice force them to shore before they have acquired enough fat reserves to survive the period of scarce food during the late summer and early fall.
Thining ice are surface hard to walk on because they deform more easily which makes it more difficult for them to hunt for food. They also need to swim wider gaps between ice which further used up their energy and sometimes lead to drowning. Malnourished female polar bears result to lower reproductive rates and lower survival rates among cubs and juvenilles (Rosing, 2006). Thining ice make it hard for adult females to find mates. And when they do find one, the hard quest starts for a suitable maternity dens.
Underground dens have tendencies to collapse or have low insulative power to provide heat for newly born cubs. Dens built on multi-year ice may experience movement that may result in longer distances for mothers and young cubs to walk when they return to seal-hunting areas. There is also a risk of disease-causing bacteria and parasites to flourish more readily in a warmer climate. In Western Huson Bay, ice breaks up earlier than it did 30 years ago during late spring season which shortens the hunting season for polar nears (National Wildlife Organization).
Their population declined by 22 percent from 1987 to 2004 and their body condition is much different, weighing 60kg lighter in 2004 than in 1980 when likely pregnant female polar bears weigh around 290kg. In 2005, Alaska recorded four drowned polar bears who made longer swim than they normally do when hunting for food. Alaska also documented higher mortality rates among polar bear cubs and different denning sites for pregnant polar bears. Photos and videos of polar bears’ struggle are everywhere.
In 2008, US Department of the Interior listed Polar Bears as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and melting of the sea ice in the Arctic as the biggest danger to their survival (The Humane Society of the United States). They are the only species aside from elkhorn coral and staghorn coral to be put on the said list. However, the decision was reversed following the commercial and scientific data that they are increasing in numbers in the past 30 years.
As it currently stands, the US Fish and Wildlife Service consider polar bears as threatened species meaning anytime their habitat will vanish and their status will change to endangered before they ultimately become extinct. In Canada, polar bears were recommended by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada to be placed under the list of “species of special concern”. This list allows for a management plan to be written in five years, which was criticized by World Wide Fund for Nature as being too long to make a substantive impact to habitat loss from climate change.
Since their current status is threatened species, it is not too late for efforts toward saving their habitat from further degradation (Bear Planet Organization). The simplest but the best way to mitigate the effects of global warming is to stop carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Recycle and reuse products and use energy efficient appliances to cut back CO2 in the atmosphere. Polar bears deserve a chance. Works Cited Bear Planet Organization. Polar Bears and Global Warming. July 8, 2009. <http://www. bearplanet. org/global-warming-polar-bears. shtml>. Great Bear Organization. Polar Bear (Ursus Maritimus).
July 7, 2009. <http://www. greatbear. org/polarbear. htm>. The Humane Society of the United States. Polar Bears. July 8, 2009. <http://www. hsus. org/marine_mammals/a_closer_look_at_marine_mammals/polar_bears/#Polar_bears_top_predators_in_their_arcti>. National Wildlife Organization. Polar Bear. July 8, 2009. <http://www. nwf. org/polarbear/>. Rosing, Norbert. The World of the Polar Bear. NY: Firefly Books, Ltd, 2006. World Wildlife Organization. WWF: A Leader in Polar Bear Conservation. July 7, 2009. <http://www. worldwildlife. org/species/finder/polarbear/polarbear. html. >.
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