Mauled By Climate Change


Polar bear attacks are on the rise:

[Biologist James Wilder’s] data is still incomplete. But two things are already clear: the number of people killed by polar bears is relatively small—so far, Wilder has found just twenty-one deaths in the last 140 years—but the number of interactions between humans and polar bears is rising. According to Wilder’s tabulations, there were fewer than ten attacks per decade in the 1960s and ’70s. But in the first four years of this decade, Wilder has already documented fourteen interactions. At this pace, he expects to see about thirty-five incidents by the end of 2019—nearly as many as the last forty years combined.

Why this is happening:

Ocean temperatures are climbing faster in the Arctic than anywhere else in the world, leading to a substantial decrease in sea ice. In September 2012, the Arctic sea ice level was 49 percent lower than the historical average from 1979 to 2000. The southern parts of the Arctic, including the Torngats, have had an ice-free summer season throughout modern times. But the ice-free period is growing longer. Since the late 1970s, the number of ice-free days in the area around the Torngats has increased from 125 days to 175 days. Less sea ice means polar bears must spend more time on land. To survive, they live off the body fat stored from their earlier kills on the ice. As the period when they have to live off that reserve grows longer, some eat goose eggs, grasses, or berries. But their foraging goes only so far—they can’t survive without the fat they get from seals. “As the bears’ body condition declines, more seek alternate food sources so the frequency of conflicts between bears and humans increases,” the scientists [Ian Stirling and Andrew Derocher] concluded.

(Photo by Andres Larrovere/AFP/Getty Images)