Internationally polar bears are well known to be a protected species. Most people think that polar bears are endangered and that the white bear population is in extreme danger. Closer to their natural habitat a debate is ongoing and has been for a number of years over just how much care should be given to the polar bear. Read on to find out more.
Technically polar bears are not an endangered species they are a vulnerable one. Polar bears were first listed as vulnerable in 1982 and that status has not been changed since. In 1973 an agreement was signed that all nations with a polar bear population would agree to protect them. Since that time many believe that the polar bear population has grown.
Today there are an estimated 26,000 polar bears in the world. They are divided into nearly 20 different subpopulations across five countries. Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the U.S (Alaska) are the only places in the world known to inhabit polar bears. The 26,000 is, of course, an estimate but scientists say that they are 95% certain the population lies between 22,000 and 31,000. This number is believed to be higher than ever before but that is difficult to prove and may be false.
One U.S senator claimed in 2008 that there was three times the population of polar bears today compared to the 1970s. That may be true as back then polar bear hunting was still conducted. The population should be larger now. However, numbers of polar bears back then were sketchy. Even with all our modern instruments today we still find it difficult to get a precise estimate of polar bears. In the 60s and 70s, it would have been much more difficult. Some estimates suggest there were 6,000 polar bears back then but that is likely a dramatic underestimation.
The truth is that some of these polar populations are doing well while others are struggling. Although they are only in the vulnerable category care must be taken as they live in an extremely volatile environment and if changes take place, as many are forecasting they will, their fortunes could change and they could become endangered very quickly.
The greatest challenge facing polar bears is climate change. Polar bears thrive in a cold environment and icy conditions. While you may think that simply getting warmer will just mean a more comfortable life for the polar bear, it will impact how they live. They will not be able to find food in this new environment.
Warm temperatures mean less ice and polar bears thrive on ice. A polar bear’s favorite meal is the seal. It comprises the majority of their diet and they are experts in catching them. While polar bears are able to swim and could go head to head in the water with the seal, they never do. If polar bears enter the water they won’t be able to swim as fast as the seal and will lose their prey. To catch the prey the must hunt and stalk it on the ice, waiting for the seal to resurface for air before snatching it quickly.
As the ice is melting polar bears are finding it more and more difficult to catch seals and other animals. The polar bear is forced to swim through the water for longer periods of time. This means it is applying more effort for fewer meals. The polar bears are noticeably losing mass in the arctic region and this will only be exacerbated by the continued climate change. While polar bears have a healthy population today they may not tomorrow, unless something changes.