Loss Of Ice In The Arctic Is Leading To A Lack Of Food For Polar Bears

As the ice in the Arctic continues to decrease each and every year, it’s leading to a food shortage for some of the most majestic animals on the planet: Polar bears.

The Guardian reports that 2019 is destined to go down as one of the worst on record for ice coverage in the Arctic:

“This year’s annual minimum of the Arctic sea ice tied with the second-lowest extent on record, a mere 1.6m sq miles, and badly affected polar bear populations that live and hunt on the north slope of Alaska, plus those that live on the ice floes in the Bering Sea.”

Steven Amstrup of Polar Bears International notes that polar bears are unable to find adequate sources of nourishment:

“Now the ice has gone way offshore we know that the bears aren’t feeding, and the bears that are forced on to land don’t find much to eat. The longer the sea ice is gone from the productive zone the tougher it is on the bears.”

As recently as 2015, Amstrup’s group reported that the total number of polar bears in the Beaufort Sea had declined by 40 percent over the prior decade. And Amstrup adds that “We can only anticipate that those declines have continued.”

How dramatic is the loss of sea this year? So much so that scientific research has been curtailed in the Arctic due to the possible danger to scientists:

“The loss of sea ice this year was so pronounced early in the season that tagging crews from the US Geological Survey (USGS) concluded that the sea ice offshore in the western arctic was too thin and unstable to be able to conduct their studies – the first time the team have pulled their studies because of safety issues.”

According to Amstrup, the spring season the Arctic — when research is normally done — has presented other challenges for researchers: Large expanses of open water, fog, and other bad weather events

The same is happening this year, Amstrup told The Guardian:

“The ice in the spring … was really tough this year. What ice was there was thin and rough this year. That’s part of progressive trend that we’ve seen over several years.”

The outlook for polar bears is dire. The ones that live onshore can’t find food, and those that live on the ice are also struggling to feed themselves:

“’They’re having a long fast in the summer and there’s a limit to how long that fast can last. We’re already seeing indications in terms of poorer cub survival in the Beaufort Sea. An adult bear has a lot of body mass, and maybe can get through a long summer fast, but young bears don’t have the body mass or hunting skills to survive,’ (Amstrup) said.”

But perhaps the most sobering news of all is that things are going to get worse in the Arctic, and that’s bad news for the survival of polar bears in the region:

“Amstrup says this bad ice year and record warm summer are symbols of what the future will bring. Bad years like this will be increasingly frequent and the bad years will be increasingly worse – as long as we allow CO2 levels to continue to rise.

“’We know that as greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise it’s going to be warmer and we’re going to have less and less sea ice until polar bears disappear,’ he said.”

And once they’re gone, we may never see them again outside of a zoo.


Featured Image Via Peter Prokosch for Flickr



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Andrew Bradford

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