News Release

Action now to save polar bears

26 October 2011
Polar Bear (Image © http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinkbeltrage)

A study by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) predicts a dramatic reduction in polar bear habitats over the next 10 to 50 years, due largely to global warming.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assesses Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) as Vulnerable, with trends that suggest the population is decreasing. Polar Bears rely almost entirely on the marine sea ice environment for their survival, so much so that large scale changes in their habitat will have a devastating impact on the population.

“Now is the time to act in order to save the waning polar bear population,” says Dag Vongraven, Chair IUCN/Polar Bear Specialist Group, Norwegian Polar Institute. “If we fail to make a stand to save this species we risk having the population become severely decimated, and quite certainly they will have disappeared from many areas where they’re found today.”

Climate change poses the most substantial threat to the habitat of Polar Bears. Recent trends for sea ice extent and thickness predict dramatic reductions over coming years — declines of roughly 10 to 50% of annual sea ice are predicted by 2100. A recent study by the Norwegian Polar Institute suggests that summer sea ice in the Polar Basin might be gone in a decade, not 50 to 100 years as most models project. The long term trends reveal substantial global reductions of the extent of ice coverage in the Arctic and the length of time ice when is present each year.

“Climate change will be one of the major drivers of species extinctions in the 21st century,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “In order to slow the pace the adverse effects of climate change are having on species around the world, we must work to reduce use of energy from fossil fuels and ensure that our leaders make and adhere to strong commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions now.”

Polar Bears reside throughout the ice-covered waters in Canada, Greenland, Norway, the Russian Federation, and Alaska in the United States, and their range is limited by the southern extent of sea ice. Polar Bears that have continuous access to sea ice are able to hunt throughout the year. However, in areas where the sea ice melts completely each summer, Polar Bears are forced to spend several months on land fasting on stored fat reserves until freeze-up.

Other population stress factors that also impact the species survival include toxic contaminants, shipping, recreational viewing and oil and gas exploration. The Polar Bear is unique among species protected under the Endangered Species Act because it is the first to be designated as threatened due to global warming.

For more information please contact:

Maggie Roth, IUCN Media Relations, m: +1 202 262 5313 e: maggie.roth@iucn.org

 

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