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The polar bear capital of the world is losing its bears

Is climate change to blame?

A polar bear.
MPR News Meteorologist Sven Sundgaard captures one of the infamous Churchill polar bears milling around on a trip to the Hudson Bay in Canada.
Sven Sungaard | MPR News

The town of Churchill in Manitoba, Canada — known as the ‘polar bear capital of the world’ — is seeing a drop in its infamous polar bear population. A Canadian government study finds the polar bear population around the Hudson Bay has dropped 27 percent in the past five years.

Scientists are beginning to slowly piece together what’s happening — and MPR News Meteorologist Sven Sundgaard recently took a trip to Churchill to learn more.

“The bears are] completely dependent on seasonal ice to hunt their primary food source which are seals,” Sundgaard said. “And the ice functions as the hunting platform.”

In recent years, however, ice has been forming later in the season and ending earlier, which makes it harder for the bears to hunt for seals.

“There's about three weeks less ice, which is about 10 percent of the season. And that's actually been measured correlating directly to about a 10 percent decline in the average polar bear weight,” according to Sundgaard.

But he is hopeful that with swift action, the polar bears will be able to adapt to their changing environment.

“This is a really hearty, well-adapted animal — the largest carnivore on land on the planet. And if given the chance they can survive and thrive, but we really do have to act quickly to prevent those worst-case scenarios.”

Click play on the audio player above or subscribe to the Climate Cast podcast to hear the full conversation with MPR News meteorologist Sven Sundgaard.

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