Climate change has been wreaking havoc on sea ice these past years, reaching yet another minimum extent in October 2019. Numerous species rely on sea ice but none more so than polar bears, who use the ice to hunt ringed seals, to travel, find mates, and raise their cubs.
With the shrinking sea ice, polar bears have been forced to spend more time on land, closer to human settlements. Images of the large bears wandering streets in Russia and rummaging through garbage have made international headlines this past year.
With polar bears spending more time in human settlements, scientists have been able to examine their excrement and stomach contents. What they’ve found is horrifying.
Polar bears who’ve visited landfills have stomaches filled with bags, wrappers, and other waste. In fact, 25% of the total content of their stomaches is plastic. Other arctic mammals and birds were found with similar stomach contents.
There is a threshold for how much plastic animals can ingest, and the polar bears eating from landfills are dangerously close to it. If they continue to be unable to hunt regularly on sea ice, they may begin dying due to the plastic in their diets.