written by: Sonal Panse•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 1/27/2010
In the last 50 years or so, environmental researchers have observed the phenomenon of shrinking glaciers and early melting ice in the Arctic. This has raised the question, are polar bears in danger of extinction? If global warming is the cause, what can be done?
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A Melting Habitat
Are polar bears in danger of extinction? A species can become extinct when it is over hunted or when it loses its habitat and cannot adapt elsewhere. In the case of the polar bears, both these premises hold true.
Polar bears live in Arctic regions and spend much of their time on the ice, for hunting, hibernating, mating, giving birth and traveling. Given their dependency on the ice, any factors that affect the state of the ice are bound to affect the well-being of the bears in turn. Due to global warming, the ice in the Arctic regions is melting at an alarming rate; according to an Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report, Arctic ice is likely to shrink by almost 50% in the next 50-100 years.
Early melting ice or thin ice makes it difficult or impossible for polar bears to hunt the ringed seals that are their principle prey, leading to malnourished and starving bears. There have been instances of starving polar bears falling through the thin ice and drowning, or drowning after tiring from swimming long distances. Many times, the adult bears that die leave young cubs behind and these then starve to death or need to be rescued by humans and hand-raised. Lack of food has also led to instances of increasingly aggressive bears wandering into human settlements in search of food.
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A Polluted Habitat
In addition to the troubles brought on by a melting habitat, polar bears are threatened by poaching, trophy hunting, chemical contamination and untrammeled development. The thick white polar bear pelt can fetch more than $20,000, which is quite an incentive for poachers, and trophy hunting, while disallowed in the USA, is permitted to an extent in Canada and Greenland. Chemical contamination in the Arctic is a growing problem, and the chemicals, affecting the bears through their food supply, can bring on various health problems that could weaken and kill the bears.
There are currently only a few thousand polar bears worldwide, and these numbers are likely to dwindle if they and their habitat aren't protected. So are polar bears in danger of extinction? Many conservationists think so and, in February 2005, the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
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Polar Bears on the Endangered List?
Once the polar bears are listed as endangered, the U.S. government will have to take definite steps for their protection. These include ensuring a stricter control over greenhouse gas emission levels, and halting development projects that would put the polar bears at risk.
Some Alaskan politicians are opposed to declaring polar bears as endangered. According to them, there is not sufficient evidence that polar bear numbers are dwindling to the extent that extinction looms over the horizon, or that the melting Arctic ice has anything to do with global warming. They are concerned that an endangered listing of polar bears might hinder oil exploration in Alaska, and deprive the state of a good portion of its revenue.
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Photo source - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ursus_maritinus.jpg
Polar Bears - Are They Going Extinct? - http://www.greatdreams.com/eeyore/polar_bears.htm
Warming May Put Polar Bear on Threatened List - http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6687070
Polar bear 'extinct within 100 years' - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2642773.stm
Here you will find articles about how the polar bears may becoming endangered through the processes of global warming and melting ice caps, pollution, and poaching. Find out how the polar bears are suffering and how their habitats are being destroyed.