Impact of climate change on polar bears

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Threatened polar bear mother and cubs in Hudson Bay.
© WWF-Canada / Peter Ewins

Smaller sea ice season means less time for polar bears to hunt

The effects of reductions in sea ice extent and thickness, shorter periods of maximum ice extent, as well as changes in sea ice dynamics and structure, may vary in different areas of the Arctic, but all have the potential to negatively influence the condition and reproductive success of polar bears and their prey.

In the southern range of polar bears, for example in Hudson Bay and James Bay of Canada, sea ice is now melting earlier in the spring and forming later in the autumn.

The time bears have on the ice is their best season – hunting seals and fish is easy, and they restore their body fat and fitness. But this crucial time for storing up energy for the warm season when there is less ice and little available food is becoming dangerously limited.

As the periods without food lengthen, the overall body condition of polar bears declines.

This is particularly serious for bears that are pregnant or nursing young, and for the cubs themselves. In Hudson Bay, scientists have found the main cause of death in cubs to be either lack of food or lack of fat on nursing mothers.
 / ©: WWF / Geoff York
Polar bears are being forecd to swim longer distances as sea ice decreases. Read the article
© WWF / Geoff York
Click here to see interactive map of polar bear sub-populations.
Roll over the coloured regions to see the status of the different polar bear sub-populations. Click the check box at the bottom to see the realtive sizes of the populations.
  • WWF-Canon Polar Bear Tracker / ©: Michel TERRETTAZ / WWF-Canon

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