The North Pole may not always have polar bears. Let's not take it for granted

·8-min read

The rulers of the north are in trouble

Usually depicted as cute icons of the Arctic Circle, which children simply adore, polar bears are adversely affected by global warming.

Photos of these bears killing one another out of hunger, or fighting for their lives in an ocean without ice floes, are now common scenes in the news.

By the end of this century, polar bears, the apex predators of their domain, may no longer roam the North Pole.

As fellow inhabitants on Earth, people like us can do a lot more to save the future of these majestic creatures.

About polar bears

How much do you know about polar bears?

The polar bear, also known as the white bear or ice bear, is considered a marine mammal species.

They spend much of their time on the Arctic Ocean ice floes, and can be found from deep within the Arctic Circle to Hudson Bay in Canada.

First appearing 400,000 years ago, polar bears evolved from brown bears in ancient times, and are now the the biggest hyper-carnivorous animals on land.

Although they are the apex predators of the Arctic Circle's food chain, polar bears are also the species with one of the lowest fertility rates.

Due to global warming, the survival rate of polar bear cubs has declined from 50 per cent to less than 20 per cent.

The scientific journal Nature Climate Change indicated that if global warming continues, wild polar bears in 19 sub-populations could be wiped out by the end of the 21st century.

Yahoo is utilizing AR (augmented reality) technology to get you closer to these animals. Click on the button below to experience it in 3D. The AR experience can be viewed on both desktop and mobile.

Fun polar bear facts

Are you familiar with polar bears? Do you really know them? Which of the following polar bear facts do you know?

From black to white?

Yes! Polar bears turn from black to white! Their skin is actually black, but their fur is transparent. It only appears white due to the reflection of sunlight and ice.

Their thick fur can keep them warm and reduce heat loss, which means that if temperatures in the Arctic Circle rise, these bears could die from overheating.

Professional tracker

The polar bear is a living GPS in the North Pole.

They have an extremely well-developed sense of smell and are able to detect prey that is a kilometre away. They can also smell seals a few metres under the snow.

Polar bears are excellent swimmers, and are able to swim 97 kilometres a day at 10kmh.

Bear cubs, however, do not have a layer of insulation that is thick enough, so their mothers will try to stop them from swimming in the sea.

As the ice floes melt, mothers must swim with the cubs for a long time to gather food and that has increased the chances of cubs drowning.

Polar bears may be cute but their living environment is under threat (Sylvain CORDIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Polar bears may be cute but their living environment is under threat (Sylvain CORDIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Faster than horses

Polar bears are not just good swimmers. They can reach a running speed of 40kmh while hunting, and in terms of average speed, that is almost on a par with the current world record holder for the 100m dash (Usain Bolt at 44.72kmh).

Politeness

Polar bears have a unique way of communicating.

When one bear asks another for food, they will touch each other's noses in greeting and to ask for permission. The bears are happy to share food with fellow bears who show good manners.

Perhaps they are even more polite than humans!

Natural triple eyelids

Girls may be jealous of polar bears with their natural triple eyelids.

The third eyelid is for protection to reduce the amount of UV light entering their eyes. Even if they stay in the snow for a long time, they won't suffer from snow blindness.

Useful hide and fur

Polar bears don't clean themselves with a towel.

They have two layers of fur. The outer layer prevents the internal layer from getting wet so they just need to shake to get rid of the water in their fur after swimming.

Polar bears have two layers of fur. The outer layer prevents the internal layer from getting wet, so they just need to shake to get rid of the water in their fur after swimming. (Sylvain CORDIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Polar bears have two layers of fur. The outer layer prevents the internal layer from getting wet, so they just need to shake to get rid of the water in their fur after swimming. (Sylvain CORDIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Polar bear capital

Have you heard of the polar bear village?

There are more than 20,000 polar bears in Churchill, Canada, in the northern part of Manitoba. They even outnumber the humans there.

To prevent bear attacks, the residents set up the first and only "polar bear jail" to isolate troublesome bears.

This inhumane treatment of the bears has attracted heated debate worldwide.

Clean freaks

For polar bears, keeping their fur clean is important because dirty fur does not insulate as well.

However, in the modern world, polar bears' obsession with cleaning themselves could be their downfall.

Some bears bred in captivity have died from organ failure after licking away crude oil or other contaminants on their fur.

Survival crisis

As the major contributor to global warming, human activities have created a huge survival challenge for these polar bears.

Scientists believe that if global warming does not slow down, the population of polar bears may plummet by two-thirds.

But what is causing them to face extinction?

Decreased ice floes

Accelerated climate warming in the past decades has caused a decrease in the ice floes. From 1979 to 2020, sea ice has been melting at a rate of 2.7 per cent per decade.

Some areas, once covered in snow throughout the year, now do not have any ice in the summer, shrinking the environment for polar bears. As these bears now have to spend more energy swimming for long periods without food, their living conditions become critical.

This polar bear is having fun with a fishing net, but this also indicates how much humans have damaged nature (Steven Kazlowski/Barcroft Media/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
This polar bear is having fun with a fishing net, but this also indicates how much humans have damaged nature (Steven Kazlowski/Barcroft Media/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Man-made causes of pollution

All of us are part of the problem. Pollutants discharged by humans are carried to the Arctic Circle through the water cycle, and this affects the entire ecological marine food chain.

When seals feed on contaminated fish and shrimps, the poisons stay in their systems. When polar bears eat these seals, they consume these toxins as well, which affect their organ functions and reproduction.

Their defective genes may even be passed on to the next generation, resulting in newborn infants with congenital deficiencies.

Many environmental groups have held demonstrations to raise awareness of the polar bears' plight. This photo shows demonstrators protesting against oil companies that extract oil in the North Pole. (In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)
Many environmental groups have held demonstrations to raise awareness of the polar bears' plight. This photo shows demonstrators protesting against oil companies that extract oil in the North Pole. (In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

Exploitation of mineral resources

Many oil and natural gas companies covet the rich resources in the North Pole and want to extract these resources and harvest the adjacent waters and deep seas for profits.

Their activities have severely destroyed the polar bear’s habitat. When crude oil leaks, the toxins in the oil lead to the deaths of local animals.

The oil reduces the effectiveness of insulation and heat protection in the polar bear fur, and can also cause further complications if ingested by the bears.

Hunting

Yes, there are still people hunting polar bears.

To preserve their culture and traditions, the Canadian government issues permits to indigenous Inuits that allow them to legally hunt a certain number of polar bears.

Some travel agencies purchase the permits from the Inuits and organise pricey hunting tours for the wealthy.

During these tours, clients can shoot the polar bears, and even turn the carcasses into specimens or trophies, which is abominable.

If humans fail to effectively protect the natural environment, polar bears will face even bigger challenges. (Sylvain Cordier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
If humans fail to effectively protect the natural environment, polar bears will face even bigger challenges. (Sylvain Cordier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

What can we do?

To help polar bears, we must reduce greenhouse gases and slow global warming. There are many things we can do in our daily lives:

Clothing:

  • Only use a washing machine with a full load

  • Do not dry-clean unnecessarily

  • Rejuvenate old clothes or choose second-hand clothing

  • Buy clothes made of natural fibres, such as cotton, linen or wool, rather than those made of synthetic fibres.

Food:

  • Do not waste food

  • Choose organic products, rather than genetically-modified food

  • Eat more vegetables and less meat or seafood

  • Shop locally or purchase things manufactured in nearby regions to reduce pollution due to transportation

  • A cow flatulates methane during digestion. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. Excessive farming has made cows the third largest producer of greenhouse gas, so we should eat less beef.

We can do our part in our daily lives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming (Sylvain CORDIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
We can do our part in our daily lives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming (Sylvain CORDIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Household:

  • Use compact fluorescent lamps or LED lamps and more natural lighting

  • Use energy-efficient appliances

  • Turn off appliances when not in use

  • Use less air conditioning, or maintain the temperature between 23.9 to 26.1 degrees Celsius

  • Try to recycle waste as much as possible. Use fewer plastics or disposable products

  • Install shower heads with less flow and reduce shower time

  • Grow more plants

Transport:

  • Try to use public transport instead of private cars

  • Choose energy-efficient vehicles that consume less fuel

  • Turn off the engine whenever the car stops

  • Take fewer air flights