A recent study found that the East Greenlandic population of polar bears is being exposed to more contaminants in their diet. As Arctic ice melts, polar bears are being forced to find food further south. Over the past 30 years, they have been eating more harp and hooded seals, which have high levels of contaminants in their tissues that are then passed to the bears after consumption.
Climate change is responsible for shrinking the amount of Arctic ice about one percent each year in East Greenland forcing polar bears that hunt on the sea ice to hunt sub-Arctic seal populations further south. These harp and hooded seals live closer to human developments and ingest more chemicals. The study looked at 310 bears hunted by East Greenland Inuits from the Scoresbysund over the past three decades and saw a 42 percent decline in the ring seals’ presence in their diets while the amount of hooded and harp seals increased sharply.
On the surface, the polar bears appeared healthier. However, examination of their tissues showed higher levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). In the long term, the bears may also start to lose access to their prey as the packed ice vital for seal breeding disappears. Climate change has put polar bears in the unfortunate position of having to either eat contaminated food, or nothing at all. The study was conducted by the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Aarhus University, Dalhousie University, Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, University of Windsor, Carleton University and the National Water Research Institute
Via Science Daily
Images via Wikicommons user Dave Olsen and Flickr user Claumoho.