With portions of their former Arctic habitat melted into the sea, more polar bears are venturing closer to human-associated sites, including near whale bone piles in Alaska and Russian dumps.
University of Alberta biologist Andrew Derocher talked to Reuters about the downsides of human-polar bear interactions, saying “Already we’ve had a couple human fatalities in the eastern Canadian Arctic. It’s surprising just how many places that never had polar bear problems are now having emerging issues.”
The risks are higher for both species: As polar bears move closer to human settlements they risk being shot out of concern for public safety.
And scavenging through human trash for food probably isn’t healthy for the bears long term.
Geoff York of Polar Bears International explained to Reuters that “Bears don’t know all the negatives that come with plastic ingestion and the diseases and toxins they’re likely exposed to.”
Polar bears evolved to hunt seals through holes in sea ice, which the bears use as a platform. The Arctic, however, is heating up even faster than the rest of the world, shortening the season in which sea ice is available to polar bears.