In 1773, King George III of England appointed naval officer Constantine John Phipps to command an Arctic expedition to search for a passage to the Pacific Ocean. Instead, on the ice fields near Spitsbergen (now Svalbard), Norway, Phipps found polar bears. The explorer was the first to describe the bears as a distinct species, Ursus maritimus.
Were he to undertake the journey today, Phipps would spot polar bears not on sea ice but wandering along rocky shorelines, searching for frozen water.
For polar bears—marine mammals and apex predators of arctic realms in Norway, Canada, Greenland, Russia and Alaska—everything begins and ends with ice, or more to the point, with the ice edge. For the bears, that edge is the thin line between life and death. If sea ice continues to melt at its current rate, scientists believe two-thirds of the world’s 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears could be gone by 2050.
Sea ice is vital to polar bears because the surface provides the platform on which bears can travel and from which they are able to hunt for their choice prey, ringed seals.
Found in arctic waters on ice floes and pack ice, ringed seals—also known as ice seals—scratch away at the ice with clawed flippers, maintaining open breathing holes and allowing them to live where other seals can’t.
BOSTON— A deadline for expanding critical habitat protections for the North Atlantic right whale — one of the world’s most endangered whales — has been set in response to a legal settlement agreement. Each year most of the 500 North Atlantic right whales remaining on Earth migrate from their feeding and breeding grounds off the U.S. Northeast to their nursery areas off the Southeast.