The polar bear is more than just a big mammal; it’s an icon for an entire region -- it’s hard to think of the Arctic without picturing these beautiful creatures. Yet it’s also a symbol for how that region is changing. A warmer climate is reducing the amount of sea ice in the Arctic, which could lead to a big reduction in polar bear populations.
No bear is bigger than the polar bear -- an adult male can weigh up to three-quarters of a ton. To maintain that size, polar bears spend much of their time hunting seals, which are rich in fat and calories.
Unlike most bears, polar bears do most of their hunting in the winter, when the ice pack extends far out to sea. A bear finds a hole in the ice that seals use to breathe and waits for a seal to stick its nose out. Or it can slip up close to a seal at the edge of the ice, then charge across the last few feet to catch its meal. During summer, when the ice retreats, polar bears may not eat for months.
And that’s why climate change is a problem. Ice is forming later and melting earlier than it did just a few decades ago. That leaves less time for the bears to build up fat reserves for the lean months. Studies have found that the bears in some groups weigh less than they used to, and that they’re more likely to eat land-based animals and even garbage -- foods that aren’t as nutritious. So more bears could starve. In fact, a 2015 study said the polar bear population could drop by 30 percent by 2050 -- decreasing the numbers of the Arctic’s most powerful symbol.