Melting in the Arctic Leaves Canadian Polar Bears on Thin Ice

Polar bears are in a crisis due to Arctic Ice melting in Canada, a 2016 study published by Canadian researchers in Arctic Science suggests. Three decades of melting ice has caused substantial weight loss among the Earth’s most southern group of polar bears, the study indicates.

Nine hundred and fifty polar bears currently live off the coast of Ontario, Canada. But melting ice is causing their main food source—seals—to seek homes elsewhere. This has left the polar bear species significantly underweight and on the brink of danger.

Because polar bears are carnivores, you might expect that they’d be able to save themselves by adapting. Though these great bears typically weigh 900 to 1,600 pounds, the destruction of their habitat in the Arctic is posing a real threat. On average, polar bears studied in this area have lost 100 pounds.

Polar bears have similar lifestyles to many other mammals. Consider their reproduction cycles, for example. Each fall, female polar bears make dens where they stay for the whole winter. Here, they give birth to one to three cubs. Each spring, the new mother leaves the den with her cubs. Out of the den, she protects her cubs and teaches them how to hunt.

Researchers say that females’ dramatic changes in weight might result in them having fewer cubs, which could effect the survival of the population as a whole. Researchers also indicate that if these bears are not able to find a new food source soon—like caribou or geese, for instance—they may turn to cannibalism to survive.

“A few individual bears may be able to migrate and survive but for the most of them it’s going to be a slow eventual loss,” said Martyn Obbard, a co-author of the study and a scientist with the Ontario provincial government.

Though the United States, Soviet Union, Denmark, and Norway signed an agreement in 1973 to protect polar bears from hunters, this newer, climate-based threat is very different and very real. Hopefully, action will be taken soon to spare these great bears from more harm.

[Sources: National Geographic Kids; The Guardian]

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