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20 July 2017

Global Warming May Increase Frequency of Polar Bear Attacks in Arctic

Global warming looks set to affect life on Earth in a number of ways, ranging from the obvious to the obscure but each presenting a unique and challenging set of problems to overcome. Rising global temperatures are already kick-starting the acidification of our oceans, causing an uptick in drought, storms and other extreme weather events, threatening biodiversity of many ecosystems and completely destroying others. Sea ice continues to retreat, and this by extension worsens each of the aforementioned issues. The world is in a dire situation, a fact which is particularly apparent when you look toward the poster boy of countless global warming campaigns - the Polar Bear.

The first ever report looking into polar bear attacks has now been published and it makes for some interesting if alarming reading. The report did confirm that these animals are not vicious creatures, with the vast majority of attacks occurring when the bear was starving and in severe need of a meal, or in the case of mothers, when they were protecting their cubs. In fact approximately two thirds of the 73 documented polar bear attacks on humans between 1870 and 2014 were carried out by bears in poor condition. However due to the ongoing effects of climate change, the frequency of polar bear attacks on humans is nonetheless increasing.

The report states that this increase in attacks is in large part due to retreating sea ice forcing the creatures away from, their favoured hunting grounds and toward the land, where they come into contact with human populations. With food supplies scarce as the sea ice diminishes, these bears are often on the brink of starvation as they make their approach to human settlements, making a fatal attack all the more likely.

The fact that nearly 9/10 polar bear attacks on humans occurred between July and December - the time at which sea ice is lowest - provides further evidence that it is necessity not aggression which has been causing the uptick in attacks.

The report summarises the causation of the documented attacks as follows:

“Based on the criteria described in our methods, we judged that the bear involved acted as a predator in 59% (37 of 63) of attacks on people. Sixty-four percent (7 of 11) of attacks by females with cubs resulted from defense of cubs; 2 of these occurred at den sites. Where probable cause could be determined, 100% (5 of 5) of attacks by single females were predatory in nature, 4 of which were by subadults and 1 by an adult. Only 1 attack could be attributed to a bear defending a carcass. In 38% (14 of 37) of attacks, anthropogenic attractants were present. There was no indication that natural attractants (e.g., whale carcass) were present in any polar bear attacks on people.”

This increased tendency for polar bears to drift towards populated settlements on-land is not only bad news for the humans they encounter, but also their own species. As these majestic creatures stray into town, fearful residents are sure to defend themselves, which can only result in even more deaths among an already-struggling polar bear population. If we are not careful, this beautiful creature may one day disappear altogether, and that would be a substantial shame.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.