Polar Bears are one the few animals that can survive in the one of world’s harshest environments. This significant animal is a vital source to understanding what is occurring in the arctic. The intensive research of polar bears offered awareness to earth’s major problems that we are concerned about today. These problems are putting polar bears at risk and their population is slowly decreasing. Although they are not at high risk, environmental problems and humans put polar bears on the endangered species list because of the effects of global warming, pollution, and hunting.
Global warming is the leading problem to polar bears’ extinction. It is defined as trapped heat that increases temperatures in the earth’s atmosphere. The increasing temperatures are caused by the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, nitrous oxide, and methane. These gases are emitted from things that we see and use in our environment such as cars and power plants. Although they are a necessity in our daily lives, we are unaware of the problems they cause, especially to polar bears. Because of global warming, polar bears are considered an endangered species. According to U.S. Government studies, “two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could disappear by 2050 as global warming continues to melt the arctic’s sea ice” (Roach, 2007).
Polar bears are love the ice and cannot live without it. The ice is their home and hunting ground, but because of the increasing temperatures caused by global warming, polar bears’ preferred habitat is being eliminated. Their primary prey and diet is the ringed seal and they also reside near ice caps. When temperature increases and ice caps melt away, seals migrate to find a colder location, which leaves less food for polar bears to hunt.
The declining of food decreases reproduction of polar bear cubs. Mother polar bears rely on food in order to keep her cubs alive. When ice breaks up before summer, seals disappear into the waters. The mother leaves her cubs at their den, and she desperately races to seals’ habitat before they leave so that she can feed on them. In doing this, she is trying to store enough fat and nutrition that will last throughout summer and fall. But if she is incapable of storing up enough fat in her body and returns back to her cubs too lean, her milk production will stop and her cubs will die from starvation (Morrison, 2004).
Polar bears use ice caps as a mode of transportation. In 2004, researchers from the U.S. Minerals Management Service discovered dead polar bears in the Beaufort Sea. The cause of death was drowning. Polars bears are known to be great swimmers and can amazingly swim long distances at a time. Researchers found that the drowning cases were due to the fact that the polar ice cap had floated 160 miles North of the Alaskan coast. Since ice caps are melting faster than previous years, polar bears have little chance of stumbling upon another ice cap. This causes the bears to swim tremendously long distances to find solid ice (Glick, 2006). In 2003, Josefino Comiso, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, reported that the sea ice is melting faster than they thought because of increasing temperatures and connections between ice, ocean and the atmosphere that speed up the melting process (Morrison, 2004).
Pollution also poses a threat to polar bears. It affects polar bears’ health and their habitat in many ways. Being at the top of the food chain, Polar Bears are exposed to various types of pollutants. Persistent Organic Pollutants, POPs, is detected in many dangerous substances such as heat resistant chemicals, industrial by-products, and pesticides. Even though these substances are hardly used nowadays, they still remain in our environment. Polar Bears with high levels of POPs have low levels of vitamin A, thyroid hormones, and a few antibodies (“Threats,” n.d.). Polar bears are polluted through their food chain. Chemicals are transported from the South, to the arctic by either wind or water, which affects the Polar bears’ food chain. Their food chain begins with water, then through algae, shrimp, cod, and ringed seals. Each time chemicals pass from one species to another, it increases five to tenfold. Pollution harms polar bears’ reproductive and immune systems. When their hormones are affected by pollution, it may possibly obstruct their reproduction and growth. It may also weaken their immune systems, making polar bears vulnerable to diseases or parasites (Bralovich, 2008). Oil spills is another type of pollutant that affects Polar Bears. If a polar bear has a certain amount of oil on their fur, it can possibly poison and kill them through grooming. When a polar bears’ fur comes in contact with oil, it also reduces the insulation that keeps them warm. Their loss of insulation causes them to use more energy to keep them warm. To gain sufficient energy, they must increase their caloric intake. But because of other environmental problems such as global warming, polar bears have limited resources for hunting food, leading them to starvation (“Oil,” n.d.). Since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, environmentalist are still facing the consequences of the spill. Eleven million gallons of crude oil was spilled into the waters of Prince William Sound. It stained 1,500 miles of the Alaskan coastline, and killed hundreds of thousands of seabirds, otters, seals and whales, and local communities. Although the spill stopped just a few days after, there is no end date to when it will fully recover (Yardley, 2010). Polar bears are still experiencing the effects of the oil spill that happened 28 years ago by eating the animals in their food chain that were affected by the spill. If a species in their food is affected by an oil spill, it may cause many health problems to the polar bears. Currently there is no proven effective method for cleaning or maintaining an oil spill in arctic waters (“Oil,” n.d.).
Hunting is another reason why polar bears are heading to extinction. Hunting polar bears are illegal to non-natives in most countries. Sixty percent of the world’s polar bear population reside in Canada, is the only one of the five “range states” which allows non-natives to hunt them as a sport. Native arctic populations in America, Greenland, and Russia are the only ones allowed to kill a quota of polar bears each year. Norway has completely banned polar hunting for natives and non-natives. The ultimate treasure about hunting polar bears as a sport is earning $35,000. That is why there is a growing amount of illegal poachers. Poachers kill polar bears to sell their parts for profit. Although many countries banned importing of polar bear parts, poachers are still getting them into countries. Sadly, there is no choice but to kill a polar bear. Although polar bears are magnificent creatures, they are known to be aggressive. Killing a polar bear is not considered illegal if they are aggressive (Taylor, 2009).
Present environmental crisis and human related causes such as global warming, oil spills, and hunting, are the major causes of why polar bears are on the endangered species list. Addressing these issues and educating concerns for polar bears is one of the many ways we can start saving them. Although it will be a long time before polar bears are wiped off the face of the earth, there is a need to take current corrective action to save them from being extinct.
Bralovich, S. (2008, January 10). Polar Bears and Pollution [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://polarbearcentral.blogspot.com/2008/01/polar-bears-and-pollution.html
Carlson, M. (n.d.). Why Polar Bears are Endangered. Retrieved from http://www.helium.com/items/1512528-why-polar-bears-are-endangered
Glick, D. (2006, December 1). On Thin Ice. Retreived from http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Animals/Archives/2007/On-Thin-Ice.aspx
Morrison, J. (2004, February 1). The Incredible Shrinking Polar Bears. Retrieved from http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Animals/Archives/2004/The-Incredible-Shrinking-Polar-Bears.aspx
Roach, J. (2007, September). Most Polar Bears Gone By 2050, Studies Say. National Geographic News. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/
Taylor, J. (2009, March). Bag a polar bear for $35,000: The New threat to the Species. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/
World Wildlife Fund. (n.d.). Oil Activity in the North. Retreived from http://www.ngo.grida.no/wwfap/polarbears/risk/oil.html
World Wildlife Fund. (n.d.). Threats to Polar Bears. Retrieved from http://www.worldwildlife.org/species/finder/polarbear/threats.html
Yardley, W. (2010, May). Recovery Still Incomplete After Valdez Spill. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/