Climate change, the Polar Regions and Polar Bears

The first real symptoms of a warming planet can be seen in the Polar Regions. Antarctica and the Arctic are melting quicker than scientists had predicted. The ice is now thinner and the Arctic winter is now shorter. What does this mean for the people and animals that live there?

In the Arctic we have seen the first communities become environmental refugees. What this means is people who live in the Arctic have to move as the ice melts, the sea level rises and floods their homes. A big concern for these people is that their culture will be lost because they will be moved away from each other to other parts of the region or country.

Species of animal whose habitat is being hugely affected by climate change in the Arctic is the Polar Bear.

Polar Bears are strong swimmers and can swim for several hours at a time. However we are now seeing Polar Bears drowning. This happens because they have to swim further between ice floats. Polar Bears use the ice floats in the water to hunt for food, mainly seals. As there is less ice the bears have to swim further causing them to get tired. The ice is also thinner so it can’t hold the polar bears weight.

Due to an increase in temperature the ice breaks up and melts faster therefore shortening the hunting season for the bears. By having a shorter hunting season means the bears are not getting enough food which they need to store as fat on their bodies to help them survive till the next hunting season. This is a big concern for female Polar Bears. The females need lots of body fat to make milk to feed her cubs. If she doesn’t have enough fat to produce milk her cubs could starve. Also a fertilised egg inside a female will be absorbed into her body if there is not enough body fat. This means the population of polar bears will decrease.

Another issue due to the increase of warmer temperatures is that there is not enough snow and ice to make maternity dens for female bears and her cubs. This shelter is needed to protect Polar Bear cubs from the harsh climate.

Having a shorter hunting season also affects other animals in the region. Polar Bears catch seals and eat only the skin and blubber leaving the rest for other animals in the area to feed on.

Some facts about Polar Bears are:
They have black skin,
Their tongue is purple,
Their hair is actually clear and with a hollow core,
They can swim for several hours at a time,
They can smell up to 32kms away,
Polar bears can live in snow and in warmer temperatures,
Females grow to about 350kg and males grow to about 700kg,
A paw of a bear is about 30cms wide.

If climate change continues polar bears will become extinct by the end of this century. It has been suggested that Polar bears can adapt and live as other bears do but it would take a long time for that to happen and they do not have enough time!

Remember ‘Habits made today will help life tomorrow’.