Ten polar bears have been spotted swimming in open water during an aerial survey as the peak of summer sea ice melting nears.
Drowning polar bears has only been seen as a threat to the species in recent years as the extent of sea ice recedes to historic low levels. Last year, there was more open water than ever before recorded; this year's melt, while dramatic, won't reach the same extent as 2007.
Swimming until an exhausted death sounds like a nightmare scenario from a human perspective. Polar bears are used to swimming. It's the growing distance that matters. Polar bears at this time of year should be out hunting seals, fattening up for the winter. If they're instead burning fat reserves swimming for solid ground, they're less likely to survive the winter.
To find so many polar bears at sea at one time is extremely worrisome because it could be an indication that as the sea ice on which they live and hunt continues to melt, many more bears may be out there facing similar risk, said Geoff York, the polar bear coordinator for WWF's Arctic Program. As climate change continues to dramatically disrupt the Arctic, polar bears and their cubs are being forced to swim longer distances to find food and habitat.
Polar bears have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, though with enough caveats that environmentalists have accused the Bush Administration of recognizing the threat to polar bears without committing to addressing the problem. That's because the problem starts with every tailpipe and smokestack, every farm and development project. The Arctic sea ice is melting to such unprecedented degrees because of global warming.
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