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Melting ice could affect polar bear births

Polar bears need sea ice to find food
Polar bears need sea ice to find food

Matt Casey, staff writer

February 8, 2011 — Melting sea ice in the far north may affect the number of polar bears born.

Melting sea ice could mean less cubs are born in coming years
Melting sea ice could mean less cubs are born in coming years

A new study published in Nature Communications by Alberta researchers suggests that melting ice on Hudson Bay could be affecting the number of polar bear cubs born each year.

The study looked at data gathered in the early 1990s. It shows that around 28 percent of female polar bears don't give birth in any given year. But, if the sea ice were to melt just one month earlier than it did in the 1990s the number of females not giving birth could jump to 73 percent. If the ice were to melt two months earlier that number could jump to 100 percent.

Findings suggest that the ice on Hudson Bay is breaking up about a week earlier per decade. It is estimated that about 900 polar bears currently live in the western Hudson Bay area. That number is down from around 1200 in the past decade.

One of the reasons that the ice melt could impact polar bear pregnancies is the amount of energy a female polar bear needs to store in order to successfully give birth. Polar bears use the ice to hunt for seals in order to eat and store energy. As the ice melts, they are forced to go back onshore. On land there is little food. If sea ice melts earlier, the bears must spend longer periods of time onshore and will not be able to store enough energy to have a successful pregnancy.

The study highlights that if current climate trends persist there could be a drastic effect on the populations of polar bears in Hudson Bay and the rest of the Arctic.

With files from The Canadian Press and CBC

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