Not Just for Polar Bears: New Climate Report Documents Growing Extinction Risk for Arctic Wildlife

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on September 13, 2010

“A new report offers a dramatic look at Arctic species being pushed toward extinction by rapid climate change. Extinction: It’s Not Just for Polar Bears documents 17 Arctic animals, from Arctic foxes to whales to plankton, struggling to survive the effects of climate change and ocean acidification. It was produced by the Center for Biological Diversity and Care for the Wild International. “The polar bear is the best-known victim of rapid melting in the Arctic, but if we don’t slash greenhouse pollution, many more creatures will follow it down the path to extinction,” said Shaye Wolf, the Center’s climate science director and lead author of the report. Some Arctic species have already experienced widespread die-offs and population declines after losing key habitats and food sources; others face extreme weather events or suffer new pressure from predators and pathogens moving northward. Today’s report comes as Arctic summer sea ice approaches another near-record minimum. Rapid disappearance and thinning of the sea ice is having devastating effects on the many species that depend on it for rearing young, hunting, resting and avoiding predators. Sea-ice loss forces Pacific walrus mothers and calves to come to shore, where young are sometimes trampled to death in stampedes. Early sea-ice breakup prematurely separates ringed and harp seal mothers from their pups before the pups are big enough to survive. Eight of the world’s 19 polar bear populations are declining as they struggle to raise young and hunt for food on shrinking ice sheets. The oceans have absorbed more than a quarter of all of society’s carbon dioxide emissions, and the addition of this vast quantity of CO2 is changing the chemistry of ocean water, turning it more acidic. The Arctic ocean is becoming corrosive to shell-building creatures like plankton and clams more quickly than temperate waters. It could become lethal to the most sensitive shell-builders by 2050, threatening the marine ecosystem with collapse.”

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