NOTE: This is a guest blog post from Naomi Rose, Ph.D., the senior scientist for Humane Society International. She is a marine mammal biologist, who has been advocating for increased protection for polar bears for more than 18 years.
Polar bears are the mighty kings of the Arctic. They are nature’s top land predator and have nothing to fear. Except for the melting ice beneath their massive paws – and a hunter’s bullet.
Graphic images in the media of the great white bear precariously perched on the last chunk of a melting iceberg, of drowned bears, of cannibalized carcasses of bear cubs (eaten by hungry males) – all of these punch home the message that the Arctic is already feeling the heat of climate change.
Polar bears depend primarily on ringed seals as prey and cannot find or capture them without a solid platform of sea ice beneath their feet. As the ice recedes farther, forms later, and melts sooner each year – predicted to disappear altogether in summer within the next few years – polar bears, particularly in the more southern populations, are facing starvation. These bears are having fewer cubs and the cubs that are born are suffering much higher mortality. It is only a matter of time before other populations start showing these impacts as well.
The irony is, even as climate change threatens the very survival of the species – leading to a U.S. government decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2008 – hunters continue to kill bears, not only for subsistence in the US, Greenland, and Canada, but also for sport and commercial trade in Canada.
Photo courtesy of HSI.
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