Climate change can lead to the rapid extinction of polar bears, according to a study published today. The chances are that the predator has virtually disappeared within the time frame of human life.
In some regions, the animals are already in a downward spiral due, among other things, to the declining pack ice, which means that they have to spend longer periods of time on land and thus have less time to hunt seals. That’s what scientists report in Nature Climate Change, a journal on climate change research.
The carnivore that lives in the Arctic can fast for months, especially in the summer when the pack ice melts. But with global warming occurring twice as fast in the Arctic, the period without ice is getting longer and longer. Unable to find another source of food as rich as the seals in their area, more and more hungry bears are already venting far beyond their territory, near inhabited areas.
Their declining body weight undermines the chances of surviving arctic winters without food, the scientists said. Young animals in particular have fewer fat reserves and do not survive this kind of forced fasting period.
“If greenhouse gas emissions continue at the same rate as today, the decline in reproduction and survival will jeopardize the survival of the population by 2100,” the researchers conclude.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says it is shocked. “It’s a bit of a swallow because what we’ve feared for a long time is now scientifically even more precisely substantiated. There will be a lot fewer polar bears in the future than there are now. But it’s not too late: if we stop emissions now, the damage will be somewhat limited and we can keep an estimated over 50 percent of the sea ice surface,” said Gert Polet, WWF polar bear expert.