Global warming is a very real threat. The melting ice pack in the Arctic and North Pole regions is visual proof. Animals that depend on the icepack to survive are being affected, either by loss of habitat or from the disruption in the delicately balanced Arctic food chain. Many are listed as either threatened or endangered species.
Polar bears depend on the Arctic icepack for survival. Without access to the ice, the bears have little chance of catching their normal prey, seals. In places like Churchill, Manitoba, polar bears are spending more time waiting along the shoreline because Hudson Bay is taking longer to freeze each year. Sometimes the bears will wander into town. This results in the polar bears becoming too familiar with humans and in some cases must be destroyed as nuisance bears. The polar bear was placed on the Federal Endangered Species list in 2008.
The Arctic fox scavenges many of its meals by following the polar bears. Fewer polar bears mean fewer polar bear kills, and the foxes must make up for this food source in other ways. Warmer temperatures are also causing red foxes to expand their territory into the Arctic regions. This causes more competition for the available food sources. Though not officially on the endangered list, the Arctic fox is named on the Center for Biological Diversity’s list of threatened species.
Beluga whales are in danger because their food source, the arctic cod, has decreased. These fish feed on a crustacean that in turn feeds on ice algae. Less ice means less ice algae. Beluga whales in the Cook Inlet not only have to deal with the global warming effects; they have to learn to avoid shipping traffic and cope with industrial pollutants near growing Anchorage, Alaska. Belugas were placed on the endangered list in 2008; it is estimated only 300 to 400 whales exist today in the wild.
The Arctic icepack is the Arctic walrus’ breeding ground. These oversized seals with the long, ivory tusks haul themselves out of the water to give birth and nurse their young. The ice also serves as a place to rest. Walruses, who do not swim continuously like seals, sometimes ride the ice floes from one foraging area to another. These animals also face threats from oil and gas exploration and ocean pollution. In 2008, a petition to place the walrus on the endangered list was filed. The decision is still pending.