Polar Bear Populations Are Declining & This Is Why It Matters For Humans

Photo: Paul Goldstein/Exodus/REX Shutterstock.
A report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has found that the polar bear population could drop by 30% in the coming decades. Global warming is the biggest threat to polar bears, whose current population stands at 26,000. The report also supports polar bears' status as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List.

The retreating ice levels in the Arctic Sea and resulting destruction to the bears' habitat is to blame. Alarmingly, some Arctic areas are projected to be ice-free for up to five months at a time by the middle of the 21st century, causing lengthy fasts for polar bears that will lead to increased reproductive failure and starvation. The increased temperatures can also put their primary prey, ice seals, in danger of disease that, in turn, put polar bears in harm's way.

According to the IUCN, the global polar bear population stands to drop by 30%, to only 8,000, over the next 35 to 40 years. That would greatly impact the entire arctic ecosystem and, as the report puts it, the livelihoods of indigenous peoples in the area.

"Based on the latest, most robust science, this assessment provides evidence that climate change will continue to seriously threaten polar bear survival in the future,” Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General, said in the report. “Climate change impacts go far beyond this iconic species, and present a threat our planet has never faced before. Governments meeting at the climate summit in Paris later this month will need to go all out to strike a deal strong enough to confront this unprecedented challenge.”

Conservation efforts are in place to help protect polar bears, including the Circumpolar Action Plan. That strategy aims to reduce threats like oil spills, pollution, and hunting. Whether or not that will be enough to turn the tide for this beloved species remains to be seen.

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