10/06/2034 7:25 AM ET

THE ENVIRONMENT

Polar Bears Declared Extinct In The Wild

Vanda Crewe
Deputy Animals Editor, Huntington Courier

CC BY-SA 4.0 - image changes released under same license Polar Bear by Ted | Writer image: CC BY 4.0 Portrait by Feliciano Guimaraes | Images were cropped. Images used for illustration purposes only.
This magnificent species is now extinct in the wild, due to man's selfishness.
Yesterday came the moment conservationists, environmentalists and nature-lovers everywhere have been dreading for three years.

A press conference held jointly by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, World Wildlife Fund and the United Nations Environment Programme declared polar bears to be extinct in the wild.

Since IUCN's startling 2031 declaration that the species had been upgraded to critically endangered, the world has waited to see if last-ditch efforts to boost the population in the Southern Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay regions would yield results.

Instead, IUCN's Director General, Pierre LaRocher delivered this grim line:

"Despite our best efforts to sustain and grow the polar bear population in these two regions, we have been unsuccessful. A collaborative six month effort to locate any remaining individuals has failed."

Advanced collaring and tagging has yielded data suggesting individuals dying from a range of causes.

"What we know from imagery and audio captured by the collars is that polar bears were uniquely compromised by a perfect storm of causes. Their natural habitat has effectively been undermined by humans in a variety of ways and they died in a variety of ways," said WWF researcher, Prof. Marie Strauss.

Prof. Strauss is alluding to (and went on to explain) the threefold effect of arctic sea ice disappearance, oil and gas development and major oil spills on the polar bear population.

Collar data indicated approximately 75% of non-natural polar bear deaths in the last five years were as a result of man-made global warming.

As the earth has rapidly heated, arctic sea ice has been disappearing broadly. But seasonal ice formation has also been affected; it melts sooner and forms later, leaving polar bears to languish on shore during the warmer months, going longer without the rich nutritional value of the seals they depend upon.

This left them malnourished, which led to drastic reproductive decline. Collars transmitted data on female bears, showing that pregnancies were being aborted for nutritional reasons. Older bears were dying sooner. Prime individuals were driven to human settlements, with fatal results for many bears.

Those who took to the seas to find ice were often unlucky, either drowning or using up so much energy, they had to sleep longer which affected their ability to hunt seals. Notwithstanding the human impact on their environment, hunting seals is (was) naturally challenging for polar bears, with a low rate of success.

The warmer climate provided an environment much more conducive to P. stroicans, which had a devastating impact on bear populations in every region except the Arctic Basin. The bacterium was first discovered by a research team from the University of Alberta in 2028, and it is estimated that perhaps as much as 15% of all bear deaths resulted from its thriving in a transformed arctic habitat.

The bears also found themselves at the mercy of the local indigenous people, whose coastal settlements have been ravaged by sea level rise. Many indigenous people have been forced to leave, and those who have stayed have faced severe financial pressures. The result has been the over-harvesting of bears for food, furs and fat as local communities tried to survive.

Other indigenous people were reported to have sold their hunting tags (in violation of regulations introduced in Canada and Greenland after the 2031 announcement) to sport hunters. Illegal hunting tours were discovered to be widespread in a report last year handed down by WWF.

Ironically even though fossil fuel-driven sea level rise has been occuring at an exponential rate, the harvesting of oil and gas deposits in the arctic region doubled down on the fate of polar bears. The one thing that had been relentlessly causing sea level rise (burning fossil fuels) would help to tip polar bears over the edge.

Two years ago Shell's Deepsea Tundra oil rig was revealed by Time to be polluting enormous quantities of benzene and xylene (both carcinogens) into the ocean. Despite record fines it and Shell's three other offshore oil rigs remain in operation. Greenpeace at the time issued a statement that suggested "incalculable damage" had been done to the environment.

Collar data backed up this claim, as did several autopsies conducted by University of Wyoming researchers last year, showing fatal levels of these and other chemicals in bears' brains, kidneys and livers.

Oil harvesting proved equally damaging, with researchers noting favored denning grounds distubed by drill sites, and the Maritima Colluda spill in 2030 which polluted hundreds of miles of coastline and affected approximately 3,500 square miles of sea in Baffin Bay.

Polar bears have been under assault for a long time, and after yesterday's sad coda, their existence in their natural habitat has been concluded by humanity's reckless disregard for anything but its own interests.

The task now is for captive bears to be bred by zoos around the world, with an eye to releasing a sustainable population in the wild.

But with humans, who knows.
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