Ice loss due to climate change is the cause of the dramatic fall in polar bear populations. Between 22,000 and 31,000 polar bears live globally today, but their numbers are expected to decline by two-thirds in the coming 35-40 years.
“Why do polar bears need snow to survive? Why can’t they live without ice?” asks Mila, age 8. “If the Arctic is melting, why don’t polar bears go somewhere else, like Antarctica, or some other place where there is lots of snow?”
Read our answers below…
Q: Why do polar bears need ice and snow to survive?
A: Because of the extremely cold climate, polar bears need food with a high content of fat and that makes seals their ideal prey. Polar bears need ice to capture their prey. They sit near the breathing holes and wait for a seal to pop up. Without sea ice, bears won’t be able to catch any seals. All other food that can be found by polar bears – fish, eggs, reindeer, and human garbage – is not so high in calories. Polar bears will starve on that food alone.
Polar bears need ice to capture their prey.
Snow is important too. Polar bear cubs are born in the snow dens made by their mothers. Male polar bears make slipping dens for themselves in case of the extreme cold weather. Sometimes polar bears roll in the snow – to keep their fur clean or to cool off if they get hot.
Q: Can they live somewhere else where there is snow?
A: It’s not snow, but sea ice and seals that are important for the polar bears. The top Arctic predator can be found in all territories of the Northern Hemisphere, where both sea ice and the seal population are present: Northern America (USA, Canada and Greenland), Eurasia (Norway and Russia). The only territory that has sea ice and seals and is not inhabited by the polar bear is Antarctica.
Q: Can’t polar bear move to Antarctica?
A: An Introduction of polar bears to Antarctica is not a simple solution and includes many risks. Animals of the Antarctica, particularly penguins, could become easy prey for polar bears. Penguins do not expect any danger on the land and use it as their safe breeding ground.
Can you imagine the devastation that will happen if a polar bear stumbles upon penguin's breeding ground or a baby 'crèche'? (© Fred Olivier/nature.pl)
Similarly, seals of Antarctica don’t have any fear of things on the surface. (Biologists are even able to simply walk up to them, roll them over, and measure their lengths!). It wouldn’t take long for the polar bears to wipe out all of the penguins and the seals. Left with no food, the polar bears would not survive either.