Polar bears are getting thinner and having fewer cubs, a new study says

The bears rely on sea ice for nearly every aspect of their survival: It’s where they hunt seals, travel, make dens and mate. So the earlier in the season the ice begins to melt, the less time they have to eat and procreate.

Researchers found polar bears are becoming thinner and having fewer cubs, and their declining health was tied to melting sea ice.

“Climate-induced changes in the Arctic are clearly affecting polar bears,” study author Kristin Laidre, professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington, said in a statement. “They are an icon of climate change, but they’re also an early indicator of climate change because they are so dependent on sea ice.”

Polar bears are considered a vulnerable species, one level below “endangered.” If the climate trends continue, their populations will almost certainly deplete even further. Seeing the effect that a shrinking habitat has on polar bears could convince conservationists to take more immediate action.

And studying how the melting ice affects them could have broader implications for how it’ll eventually affect other species. “These bears inhabit a seasonal ice zone, meaning the sea ice clears out completely in summer and it’s open water,” she said. “Bears in this area give us a good basis for understanding the implications of sea ice loss.”

The bears are spending less time on land and losing weight

Laidre and her colleagues tracked the movements of adult female polar bears in Baffin Bay, a body of water off…

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