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Rising temperatures and degraded sea ice could be to blame for a drastic drop in the number of polar bear cubs born around the Svalbard Islands in the Arctic. Only 10 percent of the area's female polar bears gave birth in 2014, according to a scientific survey.
While the Barents Sea population consisting of a few thousand polar bears is one of the largest in the world, global warming is quickly diminishing the sea ice on which the bears hunt for seals, their leading food source.
Jon Aars and his Norwegian Institute colleagues conducted the annual survey in April, the time when mothers and their cubs leave their dens. They found that only three of the 29 adult females had a cub born this year.
"This is a lower number than we would have expected," he told the London Guardian. "Typically one-third or more of the adult females have cubs from that year."
But annual records dating back two decades show even that higher level is falling, as they reveal that nearly half of adult females in Svalbard had cubs in the mid-1990s.
"Maybe this [year's low number] was because we have had mild years recently with worse ice conditions, or maybe it was just a bad year," said Aars, who said it is too early to determine whether the population is disappearing. "It is alarming but it is quite a small sample, so we have to be careful. But if this is something that repeats itself in coming years, then it will be a concern."
As for the future, he said: "With worse and worse sea ice conditions we think there will come a point when the population will suffer, but we don't know when that point is" (Damian Carrington, London Guardian, May 28).
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