While animated polar bears will spend the holiday season guzzling soda pop and sledding with penguins, their real life brethren will be hoping for a very cold winter.
A protected species for nearly 40 years, the polar bear is among the most recognized endangered animals, a poster child for those seeking to raise awareness of the reality of climate change and its impact on creatures around the world. The results of a nine-year study, published in the journal of Ecological Applications, shows a sharp decline in the polar bear population of the southern Beaufort Sea, an area spanning the borders of Alaska and Canada.
The region, home of one of the 19 polar bear groups, is made up of broken land masses that are part of the bears hunting grounds, but it is the sea ice the bears call home. The area has shown a decline in sea ice, which means an ever shrinking territory for the polar bears. The decline of sea ice in the area is not the most upsetting of the findings. While the adult population seemed to level out in 2008, after a particularly dire four-year span, the juvenile survival rate has been dropping.
“Of the 80 cubs observed in Alaska from 2004 to 2007, only 2 are known to have survived,” said Jeff Bromaghin of the U.S. Geologic Survey, lead author of the study.
“The low survival may have been caused by a combination of factors that could be difficult to unravel, and why survival improved at the end of the study is unknown. Research and monitoring to better understand the factors influencing this population continue.”
Why are the polar bears so important? As apex predators, or a predator at the top of its local food chain, the polar bears are integral to the balance of the surrounding arctic ecosystem.
Reduction of sea ice has not always been a problem. Seasonal reduction in sea ice has been shown to reduce numbers among polar bear populations, but the current extreme weather patterns that serve as evidence of climate change mean that there is no seasonal recovery, and the periods of low ice are increased having a drastic impact on the arctic region, whose balance depends on ice.
In spite of the efforts put forward to both study and help to save the shrinking polar bear populations humans have only just begun to realize our impact on the planet may be worse than we thought. Though climate change is a basic truth in the life of our planet, humans have sped up the clock and animals like the polar bear are paying the price.
The news of the population decline from 1500 to 900 is shocking to some, but the overall impact of the loss may has gone unnoticed to most. Humans at Coca-Cola however, whose soda drinking polar bears aide to a boost in holiday sales, have paid the bears back, teaming with World Wildlife Fund last year to raise both money and awareness to the polar bears plight, and have donated 2 million dollars over the next five years to the preservation of the polar bears home. Efforts around the globe to put a stop to actions that have been directly proven to cause further atmospheric warming are underway, with human populations looking to more sustainable sources of power than the harmful burning of fossil fuels. Whether or not those changes have come soon enough, only time will tell. If you would like to help out those working to save the polar bears visit The World Wildlife fund.