Most of the world’s polar bears are likely to disappear in the next 30 to 50 years if the Arctic continues to heat up as climatologists predict, two University of Alberta scientists say.
They conducted an exhaustive review of the scientific research that has been done on the bears.
In the recent issue of the journal Global Change Biology, Ian Stirling and Andrew Derocher suggest that the bears of Hudson Bay and the Beaufort Sea in Canada and Alaska are likely to go first. And while they believe a small population of bears in northern Greenland and the Canadian Arctic islands could persist in the foreseeable future, they warn that the long-term well-being of those animals is in doubt as well.
“I have been concerned about the longer term future, not just for polar bears, but for the whole of the arctic marine system for quite a while,” says Stirling, who has been studying polar bears longer than anyone else in the world.
“When I see the trends and projections for the future for warming and sea ice loss for the long term, I think the outlook is not good for ice-breeding species … It may be possible for a remnant population to survive for quite a while but that will also depend on what survives for them to eat.”
“The threat to polar bears is driven simply by habitat loss,” Derocher says. “It is no different than the situation in the Amazon. If you cut down the forest that an Amazon parrot relies on, most people grasp that the species is at risk. Unfortunately, sea ice is a much more foreign habitat for most people and its dynamic nature means that most fail to see it as a habitat.
“We can no more have polar bears with too little sea ice than we can have a forest without soil. Nobody expects a specialized parrot to suddenly adapt to a deforested habitat, yet some confer special adaptation abilities on polar bears. It’s wishful thinking for some but more often, it’s ignorance; it’s a malicious strategy intended to confuse people to create an illusion that everything’s fine.”