NEWS

Polar Bears In Jeopardy Over Climate Change: U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service

01/10/2017 12:44 EST | Updated 01/10/2017 12:49 EST

You've probably seen a photo of a sad and confused polar bear near a tiny ice floe, desperately searching for food.

The image has become a symbol of climate change's devastating effect on Arctic wildlife populations, and as the U.S. government confirmed Monday, the devastation is all too real.

hungry polar bear Norwegian news photographer Stein J Bjoerge captured a young male eating birds and eggs from nests at Magdalenafjord at Spitsbergen.

The U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service said rapid loss of sea ice is jeopardizing the polar bear's future.

"Its fate is not determined by the stars, but by our willingness and ability to address climate change."

Polar bears were first listed as a threatened species in 2008 due to melting sea ice. The department estimated the current polar bear population is about 26,000.

polar bear ice floe A polar bear on pack ice north of Svalbard, Norway.

The department announced its plan to help protect and ensure the survival of the polar bear population, including habitat protection, reducing oil spill contamination, and reducing conflicts between bears and humans.

But they said no matter what the department does, polar bears still need more long-term action that addresses global warming.

If greenhouse-gas emissions continue at current levels through the 21st century, polar bears could disappear, the department says.

The World Wildlife Foundation says since polar bears can move across long distances, they might be able to adapt to ongoing geographic changes in their environment.

But their reliance on sea ice for traveling, hunting prey, and mating makes them vulnerable to climate change.

polar bears Polar bears in Manitoba.

Melting sea ice is also changing polar bears' behaviours, according to National Geographic.

They're eating different foods, spending more time ashore during the summertime, and even storing leftover food for later.

Also on HuffPost

Polar Bears In Churchilll, Man.