While the polar bear may seem livelier than ever at Bowdoin sporting events, the reality is that outside of Brunswick, our fluffy, white mascot is quickly going the way of the dodo bird.
The polar bear, whose natural habitat is sea-ice in the most northern regions of the globe, is quickly losing its long-time terrain due to global warming patterns.
According to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), if the average global temperature continues to rise at the current rate and summer sea-ice continues to disappear, the polar bear may be extinct before the end of this century.
The average global temperature has risen as much as 5.8 degrees Celsious since the year 1900, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Temperatures are expected to rise especially fast at high latitudes, like polar bear's territory.
"Fast ice", a type of sea-ice that forms from the coast to the ocean and remains attached to land or grounded in shallow areas, will be one of the first areas to melt, predict scientists around the world.
"Polar bears depend on fast ice," Director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Susan Kaplan said.
"They travel on it and hunt on it. As the thickness of the ice diminishes and amount of time it is around decreases, due to global warming, seals lose their habitat and polar bears loose their hunting platform and source of food," Kaplan said.
The impact of global warming on the polar bear is already evident the ACIA said. In the most southern limits of the polar bear's natural area of distribution, including areas surrounding the James and Hudson Bays in Canada, researchers have documented that the overall condition of the polar bear population had drastically declined due to the melting of sea-ice.
"Later formations of sea ice in autumn and earlier break-up in spring means a longer period of annual fasting for female polar bears, and their reproductive success is tightly linked to their fat stores," said the ACIA. There have also been documented declines of about 15 percent in both the average weight and number of polar bear cubs born in this region from 1981-1998.
While the polar bear seems to have relatively few options for survival, if it is able to adopt a land-based summer lifestyle, it may be able to avoid extinction for the time being.
"Unfortunately, we cannot teach polar bears alternative adaptive strategies," Kaplan said.
By adopting an alternative lifestyle on land, polar bears would be forced to compete with grizzly and brown bears for food and territory and would risk human interaction.
"Whether the polar bear will be able to adapt to a warmer world or a relic population might survive in some section of the north is not known," Kaplan said. "But we should be prepared that future generations will only know the polar bear through visits to various zoos."