Earlier this month the US government issued a report warning that the already endangered polar bears may lose a third of their population by the time we reach 2025.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) looked into scientific projections of how pollution will hurt the polar bears’ ability to hunt and reproduce, and found that the accelerating melting of sea ice, due to greenhouse gas emission, is seriously endangering the polar bear population across the world, including the specimens found in Alaska.
In fact, the only polar bears that may have a chance of surviving are the ones living in a region north of Canada, where summer ice is known for lasting longer than anywhere else.
Floating sea ice is a platform that serves as a valuable tool for polar bears when they go hunting for fish or when they ring in seals. On top this, they also use the platform for reproducing and for saving energy when traveling great distances, as swimming could prove dangerous in such a scenario.
For their project, the researchers from the US Geological Survey (USGS) worked with updated scientific models which calculated how the levels of greenhouse gasses will continue to affect the planet in the upcoming years if people don’t take steps to keep them under control.
They looked into two (2) separate scenarios – how the polar bear numbers would evolve if greenhouse gas emission stayed the same and did not progress any further, and how the polar bear numbers would evolve if greenhouse gas emission continued to increase.
What they found was that even if greenhouse gas emission levels remained as they are right now, the polar bears’ future would still look grim, as the damage that’s already been inflicted on the planet is affecting them tremendously. Polar bears in Alaska, Norway and Russia are expected to start losing members in 10 to 15 years (between 2025 and 2030).
Possibly an even worse finding is that polar bears will not recover from the loss any time soon. Their population is expected to stay on decline al through the century as projections for the year 2100 did not show any improvement in the polar bears’ numbers.
Another recent study also demonstrated that polar bears would not be able to adapt to life on the land. The species would refuse to consume land-based food if floating sea ice disappeared entirely and they were left without this hunting tool.
Upon hearing the news, scientists have started brain storming ideas that could save the polar bears. A new paper titled “Rapid ecosystem change and polar bear conservation” stresses that people clearly lack a plan and policy aimed at helping polar bears.
The experts warn that polar bears may start dieing off even sooner than expected and that there’s no plan of how to stop an impending starvation event as of yet.
One option that the paper suggests is feeding the polar bears. Europeans are already doing the same thing with their brown bears and the species has managed to survive in several countries thanks to this approach.
Black bears are also being fed in Washington State in order to reduce the damage done to trees. The scientists note that if we are willing to feed black bears to protect trees, we should also be willing to feed polar bears to protect them from starving to death and quickly losing members.
The planet currently hosts somewhere between 20.000 and 25.000 polar bears worldwide. They are recognized as an endangered species and have been placed under the protective power of the federal Endangered Species Act since 2008.
Image Source: thesun.co.uk