The Endangered Species Act was established in 1973 to protect endangered species. Climate change, caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, has serious consequences for many species, but it is a great concern for polar bears. Polar bear populations are susceptible to climate change, hunting, and habitat alteration. They are the world’s largest terrestrial carnivore and because of their strength polar bears are the symbol of the Arctic.
Their physical characteristics make polar bears a perfect fit for the arctic. The polar bear’s oily and water-repellent fur allows it to easily shake off the water and ice that may have formed after swimming. Their thick layer of body fat and small ears enable them to conserve body heat. The bear’s white fur turns a yellowish color due to oxidation from the sun but still serves as camouflage. Their large paws have black pads covered with soft papillae, also called dermal bumps, which create friction and prevent slipping. Polar bears have partially webbed forepaws and elongated hind paws making it easy for them to swim (WWF: A Leader in Polar Bear).
Hunting was a major threat to polar bears in the 1960s. Hunters have taken to hunting bears from planes in Alaska. This sport hunting is now illegal. The bear’s fur is obtained as a trophy for the floor or to make coats; polar bears also provide meat. Until 1950, only Inuit’s hunted the polar bears barely killing one-hundred a year; now 700 are killed each year due to illegal hunting. Because hunters placed a great deal of pressure on polar bears, the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears was signed on November 15, 1973 in Oslo Polar Bears International).
The polar bear population is estimated to be around twenty-two thousand. These creatures rely on the arctic ice and weather for their survival. Today, scientists have recorded the drowning of polar bears due to the rapid melting of sea ice caused by global warming. Last summer the arctic ice decreased by fifty percent; it was followed by the break-up of the permanent ice pack of the Beaufort Sea during the winter (Polar Bears International). Scientists predict that summers will be ice-free by 2050. Polar bears need to swim further to reach the ice, and some drown while making the long journey to the ice to hunt seals although they have been tracked swimming continuously for one-hundred kilometers. Polar bears have been photographed clinging to small ice formations as their environment melts away, leaving them melting at the mercy of a climate change. They simply cannot survive. The rapid decline in sea ice has led to a twenty-two percent drop in the population of the Southern Beaufort Bay and the Western Hudson Bay polar bears since 1987. These two populations have seen a decline in cub survival and the skull size of adult males (Polar Bears).
Polar bears favor survival over reproduction and postpone reproduction if living conditions are harsh....