record low sea ice extent in the Arctic. The ice is expanding again as we shift into Autumn, but it reached a low on September 16th of only 3.61 million square kilometres. That's roughly half of the average extent set between 1979 and 2000, and it remains to be seen exactly how this winter's maximum extent will compare to previous years.There has been plenty in the news lately about this year's
Whereas the northern and northeastern coasts of Greenland, and the northernmost islands in the Canadian Arctic, still saw ice this summer, the majority of the sea ice loss was along the north coasts of Russia, Canada and Alaska. This is causing concern in some experts about the effect the retreating ice is having on the world's largest land predator — the polar bear.
With food sources scarce in the Arctic, even in summer, polar bears depend on large ice floes to have enough territory to hunt in.
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"It is worse for Russian polar bears than the bears in Canada or Greenland because the pack ice is retreating much faster in our waters," said Nikita Ovsyannikov, deputy director of the Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve, according to The National Post. "The best habitat is quickly disappearing. It is extreme. What we are seeing right now is very late freezing. Our polar bear population is obviously declining. It used to be that new ice was thick enough for them to walk on in late October. It now will happen much later."
The bears already face the threat of poachers, and this threat will increase if they are forced to stay on the mainland due to the retreating ice. In the last week of September, two polar bears have been shot and killed due to encounters with people in the Chaun district of Chukotka, in far north-east Russia.
"Bears come ashore not because there are too many of them, but because the ice is melting. The fact the bears are coming ashore is a sign that they are in trouble. There is an abundance of evidence showing that the Chukotka polar bears are already an endangered species, and if this trend continues they face extinction at the hands of man," she added.
As it is expected that encounters of this kind will increase in coming years, and Russia's Polar Bear Programme and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Russian Polar Bear Patrol project are trying to emphasize other methods to authorities than shooting to kill.
"There are lots of methods of driving polar bears away used around the world, including rubber bullets, sirens, bear pepper spray and specially trained dogs. Polar stations and other standalone facilities must be surrounded by special mesh fences," said Viktor Nikiforov, head of the WWF project.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species lists polar bears as 'Vulnerable'. Estimates put the population at only 20,000 to 25,000, and the numbers are in decline.