Polar bears may be even more threatened by climate change than scientists previously realized, according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey. The bears rely on floating sea ice to mate, travel, and hunt. But thanks to climate change, this ice is melting quickly, forcing polar bears onto land, far away from their typical prey—namely, seals. Without seals to eat, many bears starve to death.
If major polluters do not cut their emissions soon, polar bear populations will plummet within the next 25 years or sooner, potentially bringing the bears to the brink of extinction. Bear populations in Alaska, Russia, and Norway could start falling sharply by 2025. Even if polluters do curb emissions, polar bear populations are still expected to drop as more bears starve due to melting sea ice.
A recent ten–year study found that polar bear populations in Alaska and Canada have declined by nearly half. The United States declared the bears an endangered species in 2008.