Its a question that will divide Democrats and Republicans faster than whether to attend a gay wedding: are Polar Bears Endangered? Last year, the true politics of the wild Alaska region came to light when Sarah Palin was the Vice-Presidential candidate. She says they’re doing fine, while others are in distress about the bears’ fate.
When you parse out the facts about the numbers of polar bears, vis-a-vis the state of their habitat, both sides have ample ammunition to make their case, whether “yes,” or “no.”
Still, as a trained barrister, I have to say that the facts weigh more heavily in favor of the popular bear’s potential demise. With less ice and glaciers on which to walk, the polar bears have to swim farther and farther each year in search of food. Vast distances from shore, the bears finally make it to dry land, but exhausted and unable to hunt effectively:
Sure, some people will point out that the numbers of polar bears have actually increased in recent years. This is only because of tighter restrictions on trophy hunting in Canada. That is, humans cannot kill as many bears as they have in the past. Nonetheless, their habitat is shrinking and polar bears are putting themselves at risk by swimming farther than they are able (and drowning), or arriving on land far from their native hunting grounds, looking to obtain prey that is more dangerous than the sea lions that normally serve as dinner.
Just watch this video:
Despite the fact that you may be able to count more polar bears in the wild now than a few decades ago, the United States Geologic Survey published information last year that indicated that, if sea ice continued melting at the rate projected by current climate models, two thirds of the world’s polar-bear population would be wiped out by the middle of the century. Yes, just a mere 40 years from now.
You may think that polar bears are great swimmers, but they’re not.
“Satellite imagery indicat[es] that the Arctic ice cover last year fell to the lowest level ever recorded, 39 percent below the long-term average. It broke the previous record low, in 2005, by 460,000 square miles, an area larger than Texas and California combined. And although it’s still early in the season, there is a 59 percent chance of another record low by the time the ice reaches its minimum in September.”
As reported in a Newsweek article last summer:
“Now in summer [the sea ice] retreats as far as 600 miles off the coast [of the Beaufor Sea], putting the seals, who prefer the shallow water near the shore, out of reach of the bears. The one-year survival rate for new cubs has dropped to 40 or 45 percent from 60 to 65 percent two decades ago, which Amstrup believes may result from the presence of more open water (cubs perish after 10 minutes in freezing water) and areas of rough ice that females with new cubs might have difficulty negotiating. Scientists have also witnessed a handful of cases of drowning, cannibalism and starvation among polar bears, things they’ve rarely—if ever—seen before. “We can’t say that those events were definitely caused by global warming or any other particular event,” says Amstrup. “But they are consistent with the changes in the environment that we’ve been seeing.”
So, what can you do to help the polar bears?
There are a number of steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint, to begin with. That may sound simplistic, but the top polar bear protection websites all say the same thing.
Be sure to check out Greenpeace, the National Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, all of which have pages dedicating to helping the majestic bear. There are many online petitions, as well: Care2, Change.org and Save the Polar Bears are excellent resources.
Among the best thing you can do (if you don’t have extra cash right now), is to spread the word. Get other people energized and behind the reality that appears to be the fact that Polar Bears are endangered.
You can make a difference! That is the best news we’ve read about the bears in a long time.