Polar Bear Populations Expected to Decrease at Least 30 Percent by 2050

December 31, 2015 | Joanne Kennell

polar bears
Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service (CC0)

Sea ice is crucial to their survival.

When you think about melting glaciers and climate change, one of the images that may pop into your head are polar bears.  Polar bears are the poster child of climate change since they are extremely threatened by a warming planet — sea ice is crucial to their survival.

According to the most detailed report ever conducted to date by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), it is estimated that there are between 22,000 and 31,000 polar bears in the Arctic that are becoming increasingly vulnerable as their habitat shrinks.  Experts say that polar bear populations will fall by more than 30 percent in the next 35 to 40 years.

"Climate change will continue to seriously threaten polar bear survival in the future," said Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General.  At the United Nations Summit on Climate Change that took place in Paris from November 30 to December 11, 2015, Anderson urged nearly 200 nations to restrict and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow sea-ice melting.

SEE ALSO: Extinction of Earth's Largest Animals Could Make Climate Change a Lot Worse

Although polar bear numbers have risen in some regions because of increased protection and bans on hunting, overall population totals from past decades are unclear — meaning scientists are not sure if these numbers actually represent an overall increase in polar bear populations.

Polar bears are known for traveling vast distances to reach the best hunting grounds, however shrinking sea ice, which was most severe in September 2012 since satellite records began, will make it even harder for them to catch live seals and walruses on the ice, the report said.

According to WWF, the future extent of melting sea-ice has some scientists estimating that two-thirds of the polar bear population could become extinct by 2050, and if the ice continues to retreat at the current speed, the situation will be even worse.

So what can we do to help polar bears?  Simple, reduce your carbon footprint.  Drive less (walk or bike), take public transit, and drive smart (be fuel efficient).  Use less energy at home, such as not leaving unnecessary lights on, and adjust your thermostat for when you are not home or sleeping.  The list goes on and on.  

It is really not that hard to reduce your carbon footprint, and you will not only be helping polar bears, but also future generations, including your children.

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