Although polar bears are the world’s largest predators found on land, they live in a relatively small region on the globe. Polar bears can only be found in the areas surrounding the Arctic Ocean. There have been a few sighting of these magnificent animals above the latitudinal meridian of 88°, which makes biologists believe they range all the way across the Arctic Circle and live as far south as James Bay in Canada.
To survive, polar bears must hunt on sea ice and therefore spend most of their lives traveling the frozen seas in search of food. Because of their seemingly endless quest for food, there have reports of polar bear sightings as far south as the Berlevag village on the Norwegian mainland and even the Kuril Islands in the Sea of Okhotsk.
Unfortunately, since the entire range of the polar bear’s habitat hasn’t been thoroughly studied, biologists do not have an accurate number of this mammal. The best estimates range between 50,000 and 100,000 bears worldwide. However, there has been enough research conducted to declare the polar bear a “vulnerable” species. Biologists have identified 19 specific classifications of the polar bear and of these 5 are declining in population, 5 are stable, 2 are increasing and the remaining 7 do not have enough data to make a firm determination of their survival rate.
Several factors are currently threatening the overall survival of polar bears. For many years, unrestricted hunting had been the main issue, but with current quotas in place, this is no longer the number one threat to these animals.
Global warming is the danger that many scientists feel can severely affect the polar bears and some feel this environmental issue could even make this species extinct within 100 years. The increase in worldwide temperatures is causing the sea ice to melt. Since polar bears hunt on the ice, their habitat is steadily growing smaller. There is more competition between the bears for food, and eventually many of them could starve. This situation is so serious that the U.S. Department of the Interior listed the polar bear as a threatened species on May 14, 2008.
Understanding how polar bears live will help everyone to better preserve and protect their habitat. These animals are huge, with adult males weighing between 660 to 1320 pounds. This means they need a large amount of food every day to survive. Their bodies are uniquely adapted to the fiercely cold temperatures of the Arctic region and they can easily move across snow, ice and open water. Their diet is largely made up of seals, which they hunt for in the sea ice.
Polar bears follow the migration of the seals that travel in response to climate changes. In some areas, like the Hudson Bay and James Bay, the ice melts completely each summer and that forces the polar bears to return to land to wait until the next freeze. Although this is only a temporary condition, if global warming impacts the planet, there will be no re-freezing of the sea ice and that will leave polar bears both hungry and homeless.
Yet, there is a positive side to the polar bears’ story. Many scientists and biologists are studying the climate changes and are offering plans of action. The problems the polar bears may face with increasingly warmer temperatures can hopefully be solved through a determination to keep the habitat of these animals safe.