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Are Polar Bears Endangered?

polar bear

Polar bears are currently considered vulnerable. It is expected that polar bear populations are going to decrease by up to 30% in the coming years and decades. 

The main reasons include climate change, pollution, oil and gas exploration, as well as harvesting.

Polar bears are one of the most vulnerable bear species in the world. They live in the Arctic as they prefer colder temperatures. As apex predators, they are becoming increasingly endangered because of climate change and pollution, causing them to lose food and habitat because of human-induced changes.

Why Are Polar Bears Vulnerable?

polar bears

According to the IUCN red list of endangered animals, polar bears are considered to be vulnerable. 

If an animal is considered to be vulnerable, then this means that it faces a real threat of extinction unless the conditions that are causing its vulnerability improve. This means that polar bears are at a real threat of becoming extinct in the next few years and decades unless something changes dramatically in their favor.

There are several reasons why polar bears are considered to be vulnerable. The main reasons include climate change, pollution of the air, oil and gas exploration, as well as harvesting and human exploitation. 

It’s believed that there are up to 31,000 polar bears still out there in the wild, but these numbers are declining rapidly. It is projected that in the next few years and decades, this number will decrease by at least 30% and in some cases even more where the reasons for extinction are stronger.

Here are the main reasons why polar bears are considered to be vulnerable.

Related Article: Can Polar Bears Breathe Underwater?

1. Climate Change

A polar bear walking through the arctic

By far the biggest and most significant reason why polar bears are today vulnerable is climate change. Because polar bears rely heavily on ice for moving around, hunting, and survival, they are becoming increasingly endangered since the ice is melting in the areas where polar bears are.

From 1971 to 2019, the temperatures in the Arctic have increased by 3.1 degrees Celsius, causing large masses of ice to melt. And since climate change is going to continue in the next few years and decades, this is going to become an increasingly important problem for polar bears that might cause them to go extinct.

Because the temperatures have increased so rapidly in the past few decades, polar bears have lost their habitat and their ability to survive easily. They can’t hunt without ice and they aren’t able to move around, which causes a big deterioration in their quality of life. Polar bears are thus heavily influenced by climate change.

Even though efforts are being made to stop and reverse climate change, it’s unlikely that it’s going to help polar bears in the long term anyway. Climate change is going to likely continue in the next few years, which can potentially threaten the existence of polar bears in the future.

Related Article: Are there Bears in England?

2. Pollution

polar bears

Polar bears also suffer from contamination with some potent chemicals that their bodies collect, such as polychlorinated biphenyl as well as chlorinated pesticides. These toxic chemicals are used in various industries and get released in the Arctic, which causes the polar bears to contract these chemicals.

And this can cause polar bears to suffer from toxification and the accumulation of these chemicals. Polar bears are very vulnerable to these chemicals as they are highly toxic to them. In turn, this might cause polar bears to die out and the populations are going to dwindle if these chemicals persist.

Luckily, there have been bans and efforts to stop the release of these chemicals, which has saved some polar bears from dying.

Related Article: Do Polar Bears Eat Arctic Foxes?

3. Oil and Gas Exploration

sleeping polar bear

Another major reason why polar bears are vulnerable is because of gas and oil. More specifically, there are common oil spills in areas where polar bears live, which might cause them to suffer.

The oil heavily influences the fur of the polar bear and makes it less capable of insulating the body of the polar bear. This might cause the bear to suffer from hypothermia because the fur is unable to stop the cold from damaging the animal. This is going to be a problem if oil and gas spills continue in the Arctic.

Read Also: Do Polar Bears Purr?

4. Human Intervention

Polar bear jumping

While this is not such a common threat for polar bears, human intervention is also a possible reason why polar bear populations might decrease in the coming years. 

Even though polar bears are lonesome animals and they actively attack humans as they see us as prey, many people still choose to go to the Arctic to observe these animals. This might cause conflicts among these two species and it might cause the polar bears to suffer and their quality of life will deteriorate because of it.

Read Also: Are Bears Smarter Than Dogs?

What Is Being Done to Save Polar Bears?

polar bear swimming underwater

There are organized efforts to save polar bears – but without decreasing the pollution and stopping or minimizing climate change, polar bear populations are going to continue decreasing in the coming years.

Stopping or limiting climate change is going to be the most important effort to save polar bears. Of course, this is going to take monumental and worldwide action to stop it, but it is possible. 

One major problem here is that this issue is becoming heavily politicized and is subject to many divisions amongst people. This issue can only be solved by coming together as humans and working against climate change. But there is still not enough interest in stopping this problem, according to WWF.

Unless this changes on a global scale, polar bears are going to continue being vulnerable for the future.

Conservation Status Comparison with Other Bears

Type of BearIUCN Conservation StatusRead More
Grizzly BearsLeast ConcernAre Grizzly Bears Endangered?
Giant PandasVulnerableAre Giant Pandas Endangered?
Sun BearsVulnerableAre Sun Bears Endangered?
Black BearsLeast ConcernAre Black Bears Endangered?
Polar BearsVulnerableThis Article.

Go Deeper: Are Bears Endangered?

Conclusion

Polar bear populations have decreased in the last few years because of climate change and pollution. It is also predicted that polar bear populations are going to continue to decrease in the coming years and might decrease by at least 30%.

The main reason why polar bears are vulnerable is that the ice is melting due to climate change. And unless this is reversed, polar bears are going to continue being endangered for the foreseeable future.

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