Polar bears are a species of bear that have adapted to live virtually exclusively in the Arctic Circle region. It is the largest bear, and also the largest land carnivore, in the world. An adult male can weigh 350-680 kg (770-1,500 lbs) and a female weighs about half of this. Polar bears are born on land, but spend much of their time at sea. They travel across ice, snow and open water in search of seals, which are their favorite food. The polar bear is listed as a vulnerable species and there are only about 20,000 animals left in the wild, with this number in decline. Let’s find out what makes this species endangered.
Why are polar bears endangered?
For many years polar bears were hunted up to the point where concern was raised about the future of the species. Fortunately, limits and controls on this hunting were put into place and the species numbers recovered. Today, one of the greatest threats to the polar bear is believed to be climate change. As the climate changes the ice melts earlier in the Arctic Circle. Polar bears require the ice because it is from the ice that they hunt the seals. The earlier ice melt reduces the time they have to build their fat stores for the period when there is less food for them to eat. This also increases their interactions with humans because they search for food on land instead. It is also thought that polar bears will become susceptible to drowning because they will need to swim further distances.
Other threats to polar bears include pollution as polar bears are susceptible to the buildup of certain chemicals due to their position on the top of the food chain. Oil and gas exploration in the Arctic is also seen as a threat to the populations of polar bears. An oil spill is potentially fatal to a polar bear because the oil reduces the ability for the fur to provide warmth for the animal. They are also likely to lick the oil from their skin, which can also be fatal. Oil and gas exploration has also been shown to disrupt the polar bear dens used by pregnant females, which can lead to the abandonment of their young.