courtesy of Alaska Dispatch
by Will Rose and Kajsa Sjölander
Beaufort Sea polar bears find themselves in the crosshairs of global warming, forced to adapt to less and less ice that’s critical to the way they hunt and survive.
As Arctic sea ice retreats up to 700 miles from the shoreline during summer months, bears must either head north or swim south to land as the ice breaks up. In 2011, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service scientists working in the area have counted 49 bears within 10 miles of Kaktovik, the largest concentration of the estimated 70-80 spread along the coastline.
Those bears represent up to 10 percent of the southern Beaufort population, estimated at 1,500 animals five years ago by U.S. Geological Survey.
The number of polar bears coming to land is increasing over the past decade but scientists are unsure why. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the primary threat to polar bears is the loss of sea ice habitat due to climate change. Whale remains left by local substance hunters may be another factor.
“A lot of bears showed up just after a big wind storm,” said polar bear guide Robert Thompson of Kaktovik. “Biologists said they saw eight dead polar bears floating in the water. We believe the thin ice broke up beneath them so they had to sink or swim.”