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Loss of Arctic Sea Ice Catastrophic for Polar Bear Populations

Worldly Wednesday

Polar bear dipping paw into ocean

Reliant on Arctic Ice  

 Polar bears: Although rarely seen in areas populated by humans, we know them well. The majestic, powerful bears roam the Northern Arctic throughout Russia, Greenland, Northern Canada, Svalbard (Norway), and Alaska (US). They traverse vast swathes of shifting sea-ice in a lifetime. During the winter months, when the sea freezes over, polar bears may not see or tread on solid land until summertime. 

Polar bear standing on small ice cap

Things are lean in the summer for polar bears, as there is little sustainable sustenance on land. The best hunting is during the winter, where their typical prey of seals are more easily found atop the sea ice. Rather than hibernate through the winter, polar bears hunt straight through the season when the ice is most accessible. 

Endangered Species   

But there's a problem: That sea ice is disappearing. The warming of our planet is slowly and persistently melting the Arctic Ice cap, and with it, the habitat of polar bears. 

Polar bear stranded on melting ice

 

It's not the lack of ice that is harmful per se, but the inability to hunt. Without access to the huge territories that extend far beyond the coast, it becomes increasingly difficult for polar bears to hunt seals and other marine life. A seal on ice is slow and ungainly: A seal swimming in the ocean is quick and agile- a virtually impossible catch. 

Today, there are less than 26,000 polar bears left. Scientists have observed local populations decline more than 50% during lean-ice seasons. In more southern areas, polar bear populations have diminished more than 30% in the last 30 years. 

Mother polar bear helping two swimming cubs up on ice cap

Current studies indicate that if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, all but a few polar bears will be gone by 2100. If we don't work to protect the Arctic fast, we will lose this incredible species to climate-change- caused extinction. 

The Arctic Legend Bracelet

Legend partnered with the Woods Hole Research Center to support scientific research to protect the Arctic. 

Photo of hand wearing Arctic Legend Bracelet

 

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