Polar Bears Are Definitely Screwed

A polar bear testing thin ice with its paw. Image: Mario Hoppmann
A polar bear testing thin ice with its paw. Image: Mario Hoppmann

As Arctic sea ice flirts with its lowest levels in recorded history, polar scientists are taking the opportunity to remind us that it isn’t just humans who are screwed because of melting ice caps. Remember polar bears, global warming’s first darling poster child? They’re still around, and they’re not happy with what we’ve done to the planet.

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Across the Arctic, nineteen separate polar bear subpopulations head out onto the ice in the winter and spring to hunt seals, their main source of calories. All nineteen groups have seen hunting season dramatically shortened because of climate change. That’s according to a new analysis published today in The Cryosphere, which drew on 35 years of satellite data to show that dwindling sea ice is bringing an earlier spring thaw and later fall freeze-up to all regions of the Arctic inhabited by polar bears.

Arctic sea ice levels in 2016 (red) and the record low year of 2012 (green), compared with the long-term average (black). Image: NSDIC
Arctic sea ice levels in 2016 (red) and the record low year of 2012 (green), compared with the long-term average (black). Image: NSDIC
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On average, the researchers found that in polar bear-populated regions, spring ice melt has been starting three to nine days earlier per decade since 1979, while fall freeze up has been arriving three to nine days later. Over 35 years, this amounts to a reduction in hunting season of up to seven weeks, which is a lot of time that mamma bears could be packing on the seal blubber and feeding it to their young.

“These spring and fall transitions bound the period when there is good ice habitat available for bears to feed,” study co-author Kristin Laidre, a researcher at the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center said in a statement. “Those periods are also tied to the breeding season when bears find mates, and when females come out of their maternity dens with very small cubs and haven’t eaten for months.”

At the rate sea ice is dwindling, the researchers say that polar bears can expect to see their hunting season reduced by another six to seven weeks by mid-century. This, of course, will leave the enormous Arctic predators with one option: terrorizing the very scientists who want to save them. So unless we’re willing to let human-polar bear relations descend into chaos, we might want to do something about all that carbon being added to the atmosphere.

[The Cryosphere via NASA]

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Maddie Stone is a freelancer based in Philadelphia.

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DISCUSSION

willconltd
willconltd

The polar bear is the only animal that is on the threatened list despite populations increasing and being the highest numbers in history. Its complete political bullshit.

Turns out these scientists are actually just making up numbers that sound good to them, and they freely admit its a guess.

“As part of past status reports, the PBSG has traditionally estimated a range for the total number of polar bears in the circumpolar Arctic. Since 2005, this range has been 20-25,000. It is important to realize that this range never has been an estimate of total abundance in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand. It is also important to note that even though we have scientifically valid estimates for a majority of the subpopulations, some are dated. Furthermore, there are no abundance estimates for the Arctic Basin, East Greenland, and the Russian subpopulations. Consequently, there is either no, or only rudimentary, knowledge to support guesses about the possible abundance of polar bears in approximately half the areas they occupy. Thus, the range given for total global population should be viewed with great caution as it cannot be used to assess population trend over the long term.”

Note: While my post is entirely factual, I posted it knowing its going to trigger the inter-webs haters and I love reading the angry replies.