Born in New Zealand, Simon received his B.S. But it is important to note that the Endangered Species Act responds to the risk of extinction facing a species, regardless of the causes of that risk or of whether it will be easy or difficult to reduce the risk.”. "Climate-induced changes that cause sea ice to melt earlier, form later, or both, likely affect the overall health of polar bears in the area," Cherry said. In the case of the polar bear, there may not be an easy way to fix it. On Jan. 9, 2007, the FWS formally proposed listing the polar bear as “threatened.” In the language of the Endangered Species Act, a species is “endangered” if it is in danger of extinction in at least a significant portion of its range. Polar vortexes, increased heat waves, and unpredictability of weather caused by ice loss are already causing significant damage to crops on which global food systems depend. Dr. Gregory Skomal is an accomplished marine biologist, underwater explorer, photographer, and author. He is known for his research on the ecology and evolution of fauna in deep-ocean hydrothermal, seamount, canyon and deep trench systems. That projects a dire future for polar bears, though some small populations might hang on in isolated regions where ice remains, Caswell said. Polar Bears and the Polar Ice Caps – Problems for the Polar Ice Caps The Polar ice caps are found in the North and South Poles. 5.2 What will be the impact on marine fisheries? “Our study reveals polar bears’ utter dependence on seals,” said lead author Anthony Pagano, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Caswell and Hunter, along with USGS polar bear biologists Erich Regher and Steven Amstrup; Michael Runge from the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland; and Ian Sterling from the Canadian Wildlife Service, issued two reports on the Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, in September 2007. There are suggestions that before mid-century we could have a nearly ice-free Arctic in the summer. Regards, Peter. ”. Polar bears are considered endangered in the U.S. and are listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN, because their sea ice habitat is under threat from climate change. The data showed the bears were active about 35 percent of the time and resting for the remainder, yet they burned through 12,325 calories a day, much of it from their body reserves. “I’ve seen a 500-kilogram [1,100-pound] male consume 100 kilograms [200 pounds] of seal in one meal,” he said. 2020 National Geographic Partners, LLC. Bears in the Beaufort Sea region are among the best studied and their numbers have fallen 40 percent in the last ten years. Effects on Biome- the endangerment isn't having a bad effect on the arctic environment because they don't have predators. As the ice caps and sea ice melt because of climate change, the polar bears have fewer places to roam, feed, and provide a shelter for themselves. Supporters of adding polar bears to the list of threatened species included the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, and 51 members of Congress. She lost 22 percent of her body weight and, worse, lost the nursing cub that had started the journey with her. (Graph courtesy of National Snow and Ice Data Center). Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). (See how scientists are trying to track polar bears across vast areas of Russia.). The FWS began an initial review of the petition in February 2006 and received more than 500,000 public comments—both supporting and opposing. Although capable of swimming long distances, polar bears burn far more energy doing so than walking, a recent study published in Polar Biology found. Read our, and more than 100 dives with autonomous underwater and remotely-operated vehicles, including the first use of a hybrid ROV, He is the author of the award-winning, best-selling book “. Dozens of polar bears are invading a remote Russian town in the Arctic Circle, after the natural ice caps where they usually live started to melt. (In many languages, they are more fittingly called ice bears. The frequency of “bad-ice” years is critical: If they occur too often (more often than once every six years or so), the bear population shrinks, the scientists said. This instability will continue to mean higher prices for you and growing crises for the world’s most vulnerable. The habitat and existance of all these animals of the polar ice caps are threatened by the effects of global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps. The Arctic is melting faster than at any time in at least the last 1,500 years, according to climate scientists. With the polar ice caps melting the ecosystems will be greatly affected. Instead, researchers found that the majority of polar bears’ diet is made up of critters that ultimately depend on sea-ice algae as a food source. Turns out they are high-energy beasts, burning through 12,325 calories a day—despite sitting around most of the time, according to a unique metabolic analysis of wild bears published Thursday in Science. Regardless of how many bears may have been around at times past, however, as long as temperatures warm and sea ice habitat continues to decline, polar bears ultimately can only decline. And yet they are uniquely vulnerable in their almost total reliance on one prey species. “At least there are obvious ways to help the whale,” Caswell said. Kirstin Meyer-Kaiser is an Assistant Scientist in the Biology Department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. That’s why the melting of the Arctic sea ice threatens polar bear survival. Melting Ice, Rising Seas Travel to the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet to find out what could happen if global warming melts it and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Williams and her crewmates are working closely with Boeing to develop their new spacecraft systems, which will provide roundtrip crew transportation services to the International Space Station and, along with SpaceX’s CrewDragon, return the ability to launch humans into space from United States soil. Kirstin is currently Principal Investigator for an interdisciplinary project on shipwrecks in Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary, including the steamship Portland, often termed “New England’s Titanic.” This project uses cutting-edge technology to construct 3D photogrammetric models of the Portland and other wrecks for archaeological and biological research and resource management. “These are very discouraging reports,” Caswell said. Like other predators at the top of the food chain, polar bears have a low reproductive rate. Melting sea ice leaves polar bears hungry ... bears are among the animals most affected declines in Arctic sea ice. Some climate studies project that summer Arctic ice may disappear by mid-century. If it does, the polar bear will follow soon after, the scientists say, with two-thirds of polar bears disappearing throughout their entire range. Examples of these animals are the seals and the polar bears. This is especially true for the animals located in the Arctic area. If climate change and melting Arctic sea ice are the cause of polar bears’ decline, reversing it may be enormously difficult. As the Arctic Ocean became more ice-free over more summer days in 2004 and 2005, polar bear breeding and survival declined below the point needed to maintain the population, the team found. He uses techniques that span isotope geochemistry, next generation DNA sequencing, and satellite tagging to study the ecology of a wide variety of ocean species. The colors range from dark blue (ice free) to white (100 percent sea ice covered). Many of the opponents invoked uncertainty as their main criticism. Polar bears rely almost exclusively on a calorie-loaded diet of seals. Ice ranges: the geographies of polar bears. More contact with humans. During the same period, polar bear researchers in the Arctic reported seeing things they had never seen before: emaciated bears, starving bears, bears drowning, and bear cannibalism. Or they stay on land longer, spending the summer and, increasingly, the fall fasting, living off their fat from the seals they caught in the spring. Effects of Polar Ice Caps Melting . Another of the effects of polar ice caps melting is the general warming of the planet. To minimize their energy consumption the bears still-hunt, waiting for hours by seals’ cone-shaped breathing holes in the sea ice. Wild polar bears will become extinct unless we take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. More swimming could lead to smaller bears, reduced reproduction rates, and even increased risk of death—something already being seen in western Hudson Bay and around the southern Beaufort Sea, Griffen said. From algae to fish and polar bears, the loss of habitat caused by global warming is affecting the food chain An adult polar bear hunting for seals on the melting pack ice … Five populations are thought to be stable and there's not enough known about the others to judge. He is an Explorer-At-Large at the National Geographic Society, Commissioner for the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, and a Research Scholar at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Sarah Palin of Alaska said, “There is insufficient evidence that polar bears are in danger of becoming extinct within the foreseeable future, ” adding that “the possible listing of a healthy species like the polar bear would be based on uncertain modeling of possible effects” [of climate change]. “I don’t know if that poor bear in that video was starving. One bear lost close to 44 pounds, including her lean muscle, in 10 days. It has other effects, too, including the increased risk of flooding, tropical storms and hurricanes during storm seasons. He is also adjunct faculty at the University of Massachusetts School for Marine Science and Technology and an adjunct scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Another reason for ice melt is the warming of the oceans. “They’re far more successful doing this than any other method of hunting,” Pagano said. Without examining the bear in the video—thought to have died—it’s impossible to know for sure what ailed that individual, but now scientists have published new findings that shed more light on the risk to the species overall. The melting of polar ice caps caused by global warming has severe consequences on the water levels all over the world and the animals that inhabit the Arctic regions. Even if the ice caps were to be melting slower than usual, this is not a sigh of relief in saying that all is well and that humans should ignore the melting polar ice caps along with all the many other effects of climate change.. The polar ice caps have begun to melt at an alarming rate within the past twenty years. Bears are also doing a lot more swimming as the sea ice declines, said Derocher. Robert D. Ballard is Founder and President of the Ocean Exploration Trust; Director of the Center for Ocean Exploration and Professor of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography. Pagano’s study involved capturing nine female bears in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska last April, when there are normally lots of seals around. The bears were fitted with GPS collars that had cameras to record point-of-view videos of each. The population can withstand occasional “bad-ice years,” but not a steady diet of them. As solitary hunters, the bears are more like tigers, except twice as big, some tipping scales at 1,100 pounds. They emerge from their dens, with the new cubs, in the spring to hunt  seals from floating sea ice. (Photo by Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), Polar bears have a low reproductive rate. Amstrup’s own 2010 study projected that continued decline in sea ice would reduce the global population of bears by two thirds, to less than 10,000 by 2050. The disappearance of sea ice is a particularly dire threat to the polar bear, a super specialist in the Arctic environment. Best estimates say there are 20,000 to 30,000 polar bears in 19 different groups or populations scattered across the top of the U.S., Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia. Polar bears are among the animals most affected by the seasonal and year-to-year decline in Arctic sea ice extent, because they rely on sea ice for essential activities such as … He is the author of the award-winning, best-selling book “Discovering the Deep.”. These are just a few of the concerns that scientists have regarding the melting of the polar ice caps and global warming. They’re not efficient walkers, but thanks to their high-energy diet of seals they can roam an area as large as 95,000 square miles, Derocher said in an interview. Will polar bears make the leap into the next century? “It’s a really strong study,” said Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for Polar Bears International, a conservation-focused organization, who was not involved with the work. There’s no doubt that as the sea ice declines more and more bears are going to starve to death, said Amstrup. Interior officials were scheduled to make their decision on polar bears on Jan. 9, but postponed it for a month, citing the complexity of the situation. Decline in the Species’ Population Size. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). See our study on Fisheries. The magenta line indicates the mean September extent based on data from 1979 to 2000. Because of melting sea ice, it is likely that more polar bears will soon starve, warns a new study that discovered the large carnivores need to eat 60 percent more than anyone had realized. … “She might have been desperate,” Pagano speculated. Blood and urine samples were also taken. All rights reserved. “It shows that polar bears are more like the big cats—lions and tigers— predatory carnivores with high energy metabolisms,” Amstrup said. Polar bear populations could disappear from Arctic by 2100 as ice caps melt, scientists warn Even with considerable emissions cuts some populations of bears could be … If Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne decides to designate polar bears as threatened, critical habitat areas could be designated in the future, and federal and state agencies would be prohibited from authorizing, funding, or carrying out actions that “destroy or adversely modify” critical habitats of the species—which could include permitting of mining and drilling operations. He has been a scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution since 2001. But a recent study shows some subpopulations of polar bears are struggling to complete these essential tasks because of declining concentrations of Arctic sea ice. They calculated the interplay of all these factors—“some 10,000 simulations,” Caswell said—to estimate the probabilities of future polar bear population growth or decline. In the southern portions of these animals’ habitat’s range, such as Hudson Bay, Canada, there is no sea ice during the summer, and they must live on land until the bay freezes in the fall, where they can hunt on the ice again. Solve the puzzle of how people and polar bears live in a land of ice. The USGS had recently completed a painstaking study of one of the 19 polar bear populations in the Arctic—the one living in the Southern Beaufort Sea, off the coast of northern Alaska and adjacent Canada. He has been a fisheries scientist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries since 1987 and currently heads up the Massachusetts Shark Research Program. , often termed “New England’s Titanic.” This project uses cutting-edge technology to construct 3D photogrammetric models of the Portland and other wrecks for archaeological and biological research and resource management. Her work frequently takes her underwater using remotely operated vehicles and SCUBA and carries her to the far corners of the world. Bears can lose weight fast but also gain it back quickly if they can catch seals. From 2001 to 2005, USGS researchers searched for bears, tranquilized, measured, and tagged them, gave them lip tattoos to identify them, removed a tooth to measure the bears’ ages, and then released and tracked the bears in a “mark-recapture” study. But polar bears aren’t the only ones affected. They were among nine reports presented to the FWS and USGS administrations and to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne. It is “threatened” if it is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. “As the sea ice melts earlier and earlier, polar bears are forced to swim more and more, to reach seal populations,” said author Blaine Griffen, a biologist at BYU in a release. The videos revealed that four of the females weren’t able to catch a single seal. He served in the U.S. Navy for more than 30 years and continues to work with the Office of Naval Research. Canada is home to roughly 16,000 of the world’s estimated 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears living in the wild. Their bodies are designed by nature and evolution to be suitable for the Arctic weather. These large bodies of water absorb 90% of the Earth's total warmth, meaning that sea ice floating in the ocean are subject to higher temperatures and naturally melt as a result. Polar bears rely on the ice … Then the bear bites it on the neck and drags it onto the ice. All this melting ice is not just filling our oceans at an alarming rate. She is currently training for the first post-certification mission of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft – the second crewed flight for that vehicle – and her third long duration mission aboard the International Space Station. This increases the urgency with which we must act to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to delay or avoid som… Opponents included the government of Nunavit, in Canada, representing native inhabitants who sell limited rights to hunt bears; the state of Alaska; and the Resource Development Council, representing Alaska oil and gas interests. In 1985, he discovered the RMS Titanic, and has succeeded in tracking down numerous other significant shipwrecks, including the German battleship Bismarck, the lost fleet of Guadalcanal, the U.S. aircraft carrier Yorktown, and John F. Kennedy’s boat, PT-109. This video, published in December, ignited debate about what's happening to the world's polar bears. The Department of Interior’s imminent decision on whether to place polar bears on the federally protected endangered species list has focused attention on a recent study that documents for the first time the way that Arctic sea ice affects the bears’ survival, breeding, and population growth. (Courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center), Three years (1885, 1985 and 2085) illustrate the model-simulated trend in reduced summertime sea ice. In March 2007, the USGS enlisted Caswell and Hunter, mathematical ecologists who specialize in population dynamics models, to advise the team. Polar ice cap habitat. By rough estimates there are about 25,000 polar bears in the Arctic. “Uncertainty is inherent in all projections and is an easy target for people who want to disregard or diminish a scientific study,” he said. Because of melting sea ice, it is likely that more polar bears will soon starve, warns a new study that discovered the large carnivores need to eat 60 percent more than anyone had realized. From late fall until spring, mothers with new cubs den in snowdrifts on land or on pack ice. (Photo by Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), In September 2005, the extent of sea ice in the Artic reached a record low (right). One bear had moved 155 miles away by that time. His shark research has spanned the globe from the frigid waters of the Arctic Circle to coral reefs in the tropical Central Pacific. If current ice melting trends continue, the bears are likely to become extinct in the southern Beaufort Sea region of Alaska and adjacent Canada, the study concludes. U.S. Geological Survey Polar Bear Research. To date, global warming has been most pronounced in the Arctic, and this trend is projected to continue. The study concluded that melting Arctic ice is a critical threat to the bears’ survival. With much of his work in the South Pacific and Caribbean, Simon has been on many cruises, logging 1,000 hours of scuba diving and 800 hours in tropical environs. “We know that ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements kill them, and we can try to mitigate those factors, even if it is difficult. Images of emaciated polar bears floating on small ice blocks in the arctic sea represent some of the more radical effects polar ice melt has on wildlife. He has written dozens of scientific research papers and has appeared in a number of film and television documentaries, including programs for National Geographic, Discovery Channel, BBC, and numerous television networks. Polar Bears in the Arctic are in danger of starving to death because of the melting sea ice and are finding it harder to hunt for prey. A polar bear’s life seems simple enough: eat seals, mate, and raise cubs. The polar bears are especially threatened. A pioneer in the development of deep-sea submersibles and remotely operated vehicle systems, he has taken part in more than 155 deep-sea expeditions. Report by Nadia Gyane. To feed themselves and their cubs, they rely on sea ice for platforms to hunt for their main source of food: seals. He is a Boston Sea Rover and a member of The Explorers Club; his home and laboratory are on the south coast of Massachusetts. The FWS would take steps to protect the species in either case, but a threatened listing is more flexible and lets the government make “special rules tailored to the species’ needs.” The proposed listing triggered another yearlong process, and FWS turned to its research arm, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for further information. The long legal process to be considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act began in 2005, when the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a petition with the U.S. For more than 30 years, Greg has been actively involved in the study of life history, ecology, and physiology of sharks. Do read the artciles on this site to find out what is happening to the animals of the polar ice caps and their environment. Tim has completed more than 50 dives in the human operated submersible Alvin, and more than 100 dives with autonomous underwater and remotely-operated vehicles, including the first use of a hybrid ROV (Nereus) in the ocean’s deepest trenches. They are unipolar, inhabiting only the Arctic, an ice-covered ocean, not the ice-covered continent of Antarctica.) This could result in the loss of diversity among plant and animal life and in the spread of tropical diseases. The arctic conditions they evolved to master are … Inuits in the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing reduced hunting seasons because of increased early spring ice … Eventually they start losing muscle, hurting their chances of hunting success, which can lead to a downward spiral. Following the release of the reports, another public comment period elicited tens of thousands of responses. Even today, in the middle of the bitter cold Arctic winter, satellites show there is about 770,000 square miles less sea ice than the 1981 to 2010 median (That's an area larger than Alaska and California combined). The farther the bears have to travel to get on the ice to hunt the more weight they lose. Much of his current research centers on the use of acoustic telemetry and satellite-based tagging technology to study the ecology and behavior of sharks. The FWS began an initial review of the petition in February 2006 and received more than 500,000 public comments—both supporting and opposing. © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society, © 2015- “You could see the expressions on the faces of the audience change as the presentation went on and they became aware of the severity of the situation.”. In the case of the polar bear, the conclusions about population decline and the effects of sea ice changes on that decline are robust—in spite of the uncertainty. from the University of Auckland, and Ph.D. from James Cook University, North Queensland, Australia. One or two cubs are born in midwinter and stay with their mother for two years. Greg has been an avid SCUBA diver and underwater photographer since 1978. On J… The ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica is … Timothy Shank is a deep-sea biologist, Associate Scientist in the Biology Department, and former Director of the Ocean Exploration Institute at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. In passing, many scientists are saying that on the contrary, the melting of the icecaps is, in fact, accelerating. If these results hold up, then it shows that the loss of sea ice may have a bigger impact on the bears than previously thought, said Amstrup, a former USGS polar bear expert. Kirstin also has ongoing projects in the Arctic and on coral reefs in Palau. That record was shattered in September 2007 (left), when an area roughly the combined size of Texas and California was found to have melted. Their main habitat is sea ice, where they hunt seals by waiting for them to surface at holes in the ice. His honors include 22 Honorary Doctorates, National Geographic’s highest award, the Hubbard Medal, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Medal. Consequently, females breed only every three years. Polar bears need ice as a platform to hunt for their main food source: seals. All the climate models examined predict that bad ice years will occur more often in the future, as the Arctic warms. When a seal surfaces to breathe the bear stands on its hind legs and smacks it on the head with both of its front paws to stun it. This particularly affects the marine ice sheets located near the two global poles and along the coasts of Alaska. The Resource Development Council claimed that “all major studies by the USGS are filled with uncertainty and doubt.” And in an op-ed piece Jan. 5 in The New York Times, Gov. Eight to 11 days later they were all re-captured. By continuing on this site, you consent to their use. Simon Thorrold is an ocean ecologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Climate change is heating up the Arctic faster than anywhere else, and sea ice is shrinking 14 percent per decade. But in 2004 and 2005, the number of “ice-free” days increased to about 135, and the population declined by about 25 percent per year. In the late spring, the ice is breaking up sooner and forming later in the fall, forcing bears to burn huge amounts of energy walking or swimming long distances to get to any remaining ice. 1. Melting Ice Threatens Polar Bears’ Survival, © 2020 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, We use cookies to analyze site usage and improve user experience. Polar bears do not eat sea ice directly. Kirstin also has ongoing projects in the Arctic and on coral reefs in Palau. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and a Ph.D. from Boston University. Shot by Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier of the nonprofit group Sea Legacy, and published on National Geographic in early December, the video ignited a firestorm of debate about what scientists know, and don’t know, about the impacts of global warming on polar bears. Interior officials were scheduled to make their decision on polar bears on Jan. 9, but postponed it for a month, citing the complexity of the situation. Vast sheets of ice that go on for as far as the eye can see, if these happen to melt, we’re in big trouble. (Courtesy of NOAA), Mathematical ecologists Hal Caswell of WHOI (above) and Christine Hunter of the University of Alaska developed new population dynamics models that documneted for the first time the critical importance of sea ice for polar bears' survival. They coupled these models to projections of Arctic climate changes, especially forecasts of sea ice conditions. Blood and urine samples were taken again and the video and other data were downloaded. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), The average Arctic Ocean sea ice extent in August has trended downward from 1979 to 2007, but the low ice extent for August 2007 stands out sharply. Both glaciers and polar ice caps make up for three-quarters of the globes clean water, supplies food and a habitat for Arctic animals such as polar bears, seals and other marine life and aid in regulating water levels. Her work frequently takes her underwater using remotely operated vehicles and SCUBA and carries her to the far corners of the world. The polar ice caps are melting six times faster than in the 1990s, according to the most complete analysis to date. One female bear Griffen studied swam 426 miles over nine days. In this, the bears’ situation contrasts with another endangered species, whose demography Caswell has also analyzed: the North Atlantic right whale.