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    Nature & Science

    Why Are Polar Bears Populations At Risk?

    Image Source: SofieLion / Shutterstock

    Internationally, polar bears are widely recognized as a protected species. Many people perceive polar bears as being endangered and facing a serious threat to their population. However, closer to their natural habitat, there has been an ongoing debate for years about the level of attention and protection polar bears require. Let’s delve into this topic to gather more insight.

    From a technical standpoint, polar bears are classified as a vulnerable species, rather than endangered. The vulnerable status was first assigned in 1982 and has remained unchanged since then. In 1973, an agreement was reached among nations with polar bear populations to ensure their protection. Some experts believe that the population of polar bears has increased since then.

    Currently, it is estimated that there are around 26,000 polar bears worldwide. They are distributed among nearly 20 different subpopulations across five countries: Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the U.S. (Alaska). The estimated population of 26,000 bears comes with an assurance from scientists that there is a 95% certainty the actual number falls between 22,000 and 31,000. While this figure is believed to be higher than previous counts, definitive proof is challenging to obtain and may be misleading.

    In 2008, a U.S. senator asserted that the current polar bear population is three times larger compared to the 1970s. This claim may hold merit considering that hunting of polar bears was still prevalent back then. Naturally, the population should have expanded since then. However, gathering accurate data on polar bear numbers has always been a complex task, even with modern technology. Estimating population figures in the 60s and 70s was much more challenging. Some approximations suggest there were approximately 6,000 polar bears during that period, although this is likely a significant underestimation.

    It is evident that certain polar bear populations are faring well while others are facing challenges. Even though they are classified as vulnerable, caution is crucial due to their inhabiting an extremely fragile environment, where any shifts, as many predict, could swiftly escalate their status to endangered.

    Climate change poses the most significant threat to polar bears. These creatures thrive in frigid conditions and icy habitats. While one might assume that warmer temperatures would offer a more comfortable existence for polar bears, in reality, such changes would disrupt their way of life, particularly their ability to procure food.

    Warmer temperatures lead to reduced ice cover, which severely impacts polar bears as they heavily rely on ice. Their primary food source is seals, constituting a substantial portion of their diet, and they excel at hunting them. While polar bears are capable swimmers and could engage seals in water, they rarely do so. In order to capture prey, they must stalk and hunt seals on the ice, seizing them swiftly when they surface for air.

    With melting ice, polar bears are confronting challenges when it comes to hunting seals and other prey. The shrinking ice forces them to swim for longer durations, expending more effort for fewer meals. Polar bears in the Arctic region are visibly losing weight, a trend that will likely worsen with ongoing climate change. Despite the current healthy population of polar bears, their future remains uncertain unless substantial changes occur.

    Image Source: SofieLion / Shutterstock

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