MELTING AWAY

Due to Climate Change, Polar Bear's Winter Wonderland is on Thin Ice

The weather is beginning to cool down in Utah and the shelves in grocery stores are filled with holiday treats. For many, food is an essential and favorite part of the winter season, but one of the symbols of winter is struggling to find the joy of the season: The Polar Bear.

 

In 2017, a video of a polar bear from National Geographic went viral. The video shows the bear struggling to walk, the shape of its bones visible under its skin.

 

Polar bears have been the face of climate change for some time now, but is the polar bear in poor condition because of climate change?

 

National Geographic answered some questions about the video. The bear was spotted on Somerset Island by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen. After capturing the bear on film in late August, it became dark and they couldn’t continue working in the region. The fate of the bear is unknown, but Nicklen suspects it had died within a few days because of its condition and without an autopsy on the bear, it is unclear what led up to the bear’s condition.

 

Nicklen and his crew explained that they could not try to help the bear since they were too far to ask for help. Even if the animal was in desperate need of help, it was still a wild animal and dangerous. Nicklen said he began to film so he could “…Share this tragedy with the world.”

 

The chief scientist for Polar Bears International Steven Amstrup said in response to the video, “That bear is clearly severely malnourished. It clearly has the symptoms of starvation.”

 

Polar bear populations aren’t rapidly declining, though. Polar bears that are at the most risk for decline are those that live in areas with seasonal ice like the region the starving bear was found in. The bears survive on stored fat during the summer months when the ice is gone, but they lose two pounds a day waiting for the ice to return. Even though polar bears are exceptional swimmers and divers, the decline of sea ice exhausts their abilities.

 

Polar Bears International reports in one study that a female bear swam 426 miles within the span of nine days. The bear lost 22% of her body weight and her cub. Another study with 68 collared female bears with cubs showed that those who embarked on long swimming expeditions had higher cub mortality rates. 5 of the 11 mother bears lost their cubs before, during, or shortly after their swim.

 

Scientists are concerned that the bears will become vulnerable to disease more often as their immune systems decline from pollution and their bodies weaken from the lack of food. Toxic chemicals from pollution have been found in the bears, consumed by eating contaminated seals, and polar bear cubs are becoming contaminated as well just by drinking their mother’s milk.

 

Polar Bears International finished by reporting that scientists have found that contamination is connected to shrinking genitals and weaker bones, pollution can interfere with the bear’s hormones, and vitamin levels are being affected as well.

 

The video of the starving bear seemed like a one time instance, but in June 2019 a starving polar bear in Russia was wandering in a town in search of food. This was only the second time in forty years that a polar bear has been spotted in the city of Norilsk, according to Harry Cockburn from Independent. 

 

As of February 2019, The Washington Post reported polar bears invading a Russian island town. Novaya Zemlya residents were reluctant to leave the safety of their homes, as at least 52 bears crowded in the town’s main settlement. 

 

Pictures from residents show the bears digging in the dump for scraps, wandering through playgrounds and having standoffs with pet dogs. The locals are not allowed to shoot the bears since they are a vulnerable species, but the safety of the town’s citizens matters as well. 

 

The issue is not easy to tackle since pollution from human civilizations is causing the decline and contamination of sea ice and the Arctic ecosystem which causes the bears to travel into human civilization, and humans begin to feel unsafe.

 

Unless humans can find a way to reverse the consequences of climate change, we may see an increase in stories of polar bears invading human settlements in search of food.