When the Arctic's Ice-Free, What Happens to the Polar Bears?


Ashore on Svalbard, a male polar bear investigates a whale's backbone. Fat reserves from hunting ringed and bearded seals, and sometimes walruses, must carry bears through lean summers. All photos by Florian Schulz/National Geographic.

That's the question posed by a great, bummer-laden article in the July issue of National Geographic. Polar bears, once the de facto mascot of climate change, have drifted out of focus a bit, probably as the mood soured on climate in American politics and discourse. But that doesn't make them any less susceptible to losing their habitat in an Arctic that loses more and more ice volume every year -- and that scientists say could be entirely ice-free during summertime in under 40 years. What will happen to the bears then?

Feast thine eyes on these gorgeous heart-tugging images from the article, "On Thin Ice," by Susan McGrath, for a glimpse of what their lives will look like as the ice continues to melt (all captions are National Geographic's):
A polar bear rides a summer sea-ice raft off Norway's Svalbard archipelago. Sea ice provides crucial habitat for the Arctic's top predator, but warming temperatures are creating extended ice-free periods that tax bears.

And here's the most depressingly adorable one of all; it depicts a polar bear cub leaping from ice floe to ice floe, navigating its fracturing homeland. Aw.


"When the female saw him," Schulz said, "she huffed at her cubs, and then they just pinned their ears back and ran." Leaping over floes, they kept going long after they'd made good their escape.

In exchange for letting us run these fine photos, the folks at Nat Geo asked that we share the image of their July issue (due out June 28th), in which you can find the whole article and more images. So here 'tis:

I don't think anyone had really forgotten about the polar bears and their unique plight--but this article acts as a powerful reminder of just how imperiled they remain.

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Tags: Animals | Conservation | Endangered Species