Researchers from the Norwegian Polar Institute have been counting polar bears hibernate on Kongsøya over the last 32 years. The island in the eastern part of Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic has always been important for hibernating polar bears. In 1980 they counted 50 hibernates. In 2009 there were 25, while this year only five where counted, Aftenposten reports.
Arctic sea ice has dramatically been shrinking the last few years, including the areas around Svalbard and further east towards Russia’s Siberian coast.
“We see that there is a clear link between sea ice extent and females’ opportunity to reach their hibernating areas,” says polar bear researcher Jon Aas to Aftenposten.
Arctic scientists agree that climate change is the single biggest threat facing polar bears. Today’s polar bears are facing rapid loss of the sea ice where they hunt, breed, and, in some cases, den. Changes in their distribution or numbers affect the entire arctic ecosystem.
“We do not know what happens when the hibernating areas are unavailable. Maybe interrupted pregnancy, and maybe they find alternative locations, says Jon Aars.
Two-thirds of the world’s 20 to 25,000 polar bears will be lost during the next 50 years because of climate change, according to estimates calculated in a comprehensive study by the World Conservation Union and U.S. Geological Survey.