Living on the Edge of Extinction by LeRoy French, NAUI A50
When you hear about a species becoming extinct, this means it is gone forever. It does not exist in our ecosystem any longer. This is an extremely sad and serious situation for mankind. We have all read in the news media and seen on television many stories regarding the polar bears’ problem. My story is to explain in common terminology their ongoing struggle.
This is the largest carnivore on land, measuring up to 10 feet and weighing around 1700 pounds. This enormous animal is losing the battle with climate change.
There are many ongoing research projects worldwide that are trying to help the polar bear fight this battle. Scientists have many theories on what to do, but the basic problem is the melting of ice caps due to global warming.
Temperatures in the Canadian Arctic have risen over 7° Fahrenheit (4° Celsius) in the past 50 years. The Arctic Circle temperatures have increased at twice the rate of the rest of the world’s climate. The Arctic ice is melting and this is bad news for the polar bears.
With sea ice melting at a record pace, polar bears face an inability to access prey. The distances between sea ice and land has increased to the point that the polar bear can no longer swim between the two, and as a result in some instances they drown in the attempt. Polar Bears are not supposed to drown! This animal is capable of swimming over 100 miles at a time and mainly hunts on land. Its main diet is seals, and it hunts the seals on land. It cannot hunt in the water as the seal will out-swim the bear. This means that with the increase in distances, the bear is forced to stay on land for extended periods and cannot travel from ice cap to ice cap, meaning it cannot hunt and without food their bodies start to shrink. As a result this makes them slower and not as able to catch their prey. The polar bears habitat is about as cold as it gets, with temperatures dropping to minus 49° Fahrenheit (-45° Celsius), however this amazing animal has evolved to thrive in these conditions.
Now along with the polar bears plight there exists another one, and that is the arctic seal. What’s happening here is that it is estimated that 1,500 newborn seals in the Arctic Circle are unlikely to survive their first few months. When born the seal cub will remain burrowed in the ice for about a month until their bodies develop layers of fat and fur so that they can survive in the frigid waters. So with the ice melting too quickly, the cubs find themselves in the water before they are ready. The arctic seal population in the last century has gone from 180,000 to 8,500. This is a very disturbing statistic!
It has been noted that by mid-century it is likely that polar bears will be eliminated from the southern end of the polar basin, where sea ice is moving further from land. This area is home to about two thirds of the polar bear population. Various studies indicate this population could disappear by 2050 if global warming continues.
So having said all this, what is the solution? Note: Humans were responsible for the extinction of the Caribbean Monk Seal. Do we want to be responsible for another species becoming extinct? Scientists believe that the “sea bear” evolved about 200,000 years ago from brown bears. 200,000 years of evolution....WOW! To lose that would be unthinkable.
This is something we can correct. Studies seem to indicate that ice melting is “very likely” caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases. Global warming is our problem; don’t make it the polar bears demise. There is so much written nowadays about global warming and how we can each help, that it’s not necessary for me to go into detail. Go online and access some of the material written on global warming. Most of these articles offer many ways that the normal person can get involved.
The polar bears need all the help they can get. After all, planet Earth has been their home for quite a few years.