Polar bears are one of the Earth's special animals who can live in sub-zero temperatures and survive Arctic conditions without a problem that was, until humans intervened. Now their habitat is slowly disappearing and the species is at threat of extinction.
Polar bears spend their summers floating on large chunks of ice searching mates and hunting for seals to fatten themselves up for the winter. Yet thanks to global warming, more than a million square miles of sea ice (which equates to the combined land mass of Norway, Denmark and Sweden) have melted in the last 30 years. Scientists predict that at current levels, 80% of the summer sea ice could disappear by the late 2020s, with all of it gone by 2040. The results would be irreversible for the polar bear who would be extinct by the end of the 21st century.
Recent research already shows that polar bears are dying because of a lack of body fat and the population is being affected by unseasonable rain as a direct result of global warming. Not only does the melting of the sea ice harm polar bears directly, it also speeds up the melting process: the ice helps to reflect the sun's rays, so the less ice there is the greater the impact of the sun and so the quicker the melting takes place.
The hunting of polar bears is increasing and a policy to target the male bears to preserve the females results in problems finding a pair and mating. Ultimately, this hunting policy is directly harming the population.
There is also a discrepancy in hunting policies. Some countries, like Canada, allow themselves a limit of culls, while others like Norway don't allow killing at all. If all countries followed Norway's lead the population would start to grow again.
The US has identified the impact of energy consumption and pollution as a factor contributing to the decline of the polar bear population as they struggle to survive in a polluted environment. Unfortunately this included coastal and offshore oil and gas exploration conducted by their own administration which is happening around Alaska.
Pollution has also been shown to turn polar bears into hermaphrodites, with possible organ and brain malfunctions being another symptom.
Linked to the exploratory work of the US (above), oil and gas developments also add to the pollution and harm the environment. The drilling, construction and regular movement in the Arctic region has scared some polar bears particularly the mothers from their dens, leaving a cub who will very rarely be able to survive on their own.
While in some ways tourism benefits the plight of the polar bears by raising awareness and some much-needed financial support, it has also been criticised for speeding up their disappearance. The increased "traffic" to the region has helped add to the pollution levels, while increased visitors have helped to push them from their natural habitat.
So until humans take a positive step to put right the mess we've made, polar bears might not be around for much longer. Many of these problems are irreversible if we don't take immediate action. The time for polar bears is running out quickly.