The Arctic is a polar region that has become severely impacted by climate change and rising temperatures, as its ice caps are melting. Within the Arctic is a complex ecosystem, amongst which lives the polar bear. Most commonly found close to the North Pole, polar bears are found in most countries that make up the Arctic.
Polar bears have been made the face of climate change, as their dependency on sea ice makes them extremely vulnerable to the rising temperatures. These bears use the ice for many reasons, including hunting, traveling, mating and resting. Ice makes up the livelihood of these carnivorous mammals, and the impact humans are having on the climate puts polar bears at significant risk.
Unlike other bears, polar bears don’t go into hibernation during the winter months, as they have access to their primary source of food – seals – all year long. However, ice is essential to hunting seals. Ice forms above the water, allowing the bears to get closer to their prey and hunt with ease. As the temperatures have risen and the ice has melted, it has become increasingly difficult for bears to catch their prey. It’s true that polar bears are good swimmers, but extreme weather patterns that arise due to climate change still pose a great threat to bears – often, with them drowning while attempting to hunt (Leahy, 2018). In the summer, polar bears are able to strategically control the amount of energy they use, as food may be scarce. Due to the increasing scarcity of ice, polar bears are now having to heavily rely on their fat throughout the summer months (Voytko, 2020).
Despite being great swimmers, walking across ice is the easiest way a polar bear can travel long distances. This is because walking uses less energy than swimming, and in such cold temperatures, retaining as much energy as possible is essential to survival. Polar bears also tend to migrate to areas with more food, or to find another bear to mate with, and will use ice to travel.
Additionally, the breeding rituals of polar bears are intricate and may be severely impacted by climate change. Male polar bears typically travel long distances to find females with whom to mate, and use the ice to follow the scent of a female. Ice may be an overlooked component of the mating ritual, but without it, the two polar bears couldn’t travel far enough to encounter one another. Although polar bears do not usually den, pregnant polar bears do set up maternity dens where they give birth to and take care of the cubs. Dens are built using fresh snow, and cold temperatures to close off the entrance, making snow a key component in making sure the cubs have a warm enough environment.
Similarly to humans, polar bears sleep an average of eight hours a day, which is why it’s so important that they have a place to sleep. Having a good sleeping spot is also crucial for bears as they have to be close to their prey to facilitate their hunting, and prepare themselves for a scarcity of food during the summer (Sleep, 2020). In the summertime, polar bears like to sleep outside on the ice where it is unsheltered so they have easy access to prey. In the winter time however, bears sleep in the snow with their backs to the wind to avoid the cold temperatures.
The World Wildlife Fund has said, “We could lose more than 30% of the world’s polar bears by 2050 if we don’t urgently tackle climate change.” Essentially, the fast pace at which the ice caps are melting makes it difficult for bears to continue surviving as their livelihood is based on the environment that is currently being destroyed. As polar bears are classified as an endangered species, conservation efforts should be increased to enable their species to thrive.
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