Within the past 3 centuries humanity has been responsible for the near extinction of several species such as the blue fin tuna, whales, leopards, cheetahs, tigers, rhinos, elephants and a variety other animals too numerous name due to what can only be described as a systematized butchering of a vast swath of the animal kingdom.
In fact, dozens of animal species at the present can be placed on the endangered species list not out of them being hunted by humans but as a direct result of their local habitats being systematically affected by continued human expansion and the subsequent effect industrial pollutants have had on Earth’s closed off ecosystem.
For example, the Florida Everglades have been decreasing rapidly as a result of the unmitigated consumption of its fresh water system by the nearby cities as well as the fact that the continued construction of apartment buildings has continued to decrease the landmass of the Everglades by almost several dozen hectares a year. Coral reefs have been on the decline as result of higher water temperatures caused by global warming which has in effect robbed thousands of species of their habitats underwater.
Last but not least, the unabated release of fossil fuels into the Earth’s atmosphere has in effect caused a systematic increase in global temperatures which has lead to the melting of the polar ice caps causing a rise in sea levels which has offset the delicate balance of several ecosystems around the world.
Of particular interest is the impact the current trend in global warming has had on species within the Arctic since many of the inhabitants of this vast icy wasteland depend on the ice flows as a means of breeding, escape, hunting, foraging and a vast array of activities which animals in their natural habitat do on a daily basis.
Based on the various pieces of data that has been presented so far, it is evident that any dramatic changes within a particular ecosystem can and often will have an adverse effect on the species living within it (Tucker, 7 – 8).
The Arctic in particular with its vast ice sheets can be considered one of the most vulnerable areas in the world since with the current trend in increasing global temperature ranges especially when taking into consideration the combined effect of both the pollutants in the air as well as the sun entering its “active phase” after nearly a decade of dormancy this means that this upcoming new “phase” in Earth’s environment will definitely cause polar ice cap melting on an unprecedented scale (International Business, 9)
Taking all these factors into consideration the purpose of this paper is determine whether human activity could possibly lead to the extinction of several species within the arctic or if their subsequent population declines are a result of other external factors. Human activity has been shown to adversely affect ecosystems in the past and as such it is likely that it will cause the extinction of numerous species within the arctic if it continues unabated.
A. Declining Population of Polar Bears
A vast majority of the current polar bear population is on the decline with 8 of the recognized 19 polar bear subpopulations on a decline with only 20,000 to 25,000 thousands bears left in the wild today (Last-Chance Species, 104). While many observers may think that a population base of 20 to 25 thousand individuals may not necessarily equate into categorizing polar bears as being endangered you have to take the following factors into consideration:
1.) The Dodo itself wasn’t initially considered endangered when it was found on the island of Mauritius yet due to the environmental nuances which necessitated its unique evolutionary predisposition towards becoming a flightless bird the result was that when its environment underwent a drastic change (hungry sailors were introduced into the mix) the result was the subsequent extinction of a species since the Dodo was unable to adapt quickly enough to its changing environment.
2.) Polar bears are a species that is uniquely adapted for life in the Arctic, just like the Dodo the polar bear has evolved based on the nuances inherent in its environment however this just means that this species has the same weakness (Cone, 46). Should any subsequent changes occur to the natural habit of polar bears whether in the form of shrinking ice sheets, declining prey populations or continued global warming this could have a disastrous effect on the species since it is ill-suited for any other type of environment (Torr, 4).
When taking into consideration the various accounts elaborating on the impact of global warming on the Arctic and how vast ice shelves and sheets could disappear within the next 50 years this does not bode well for the polar bear population or any population within the Arctic since without these ice masses the polar bear species will in effect become extinct within half a century.
B. Declining Population of other Arctic Species
First and foremost what must be understood is that a large percentage of the animal species that are in the Arctic at the present aren’t actually native inhabitants but are actually migrant populations that go to the Arctic during particular times of the year (Bohannon, 4) . For example, a variety of whales, seals, caribou, and several bird populations migrate to this area in order to procreate and feast on the abundant resources within the region.
Unfortunately, what should be taken into consideration is the fact that as human interference continues to escalate within the region such as overfishing, oil drilling, population expansion and the effects of global warming this has in effect disrupted the patterns of migration of several of the species within the region which have the possibility for a subsequent cascading effect.
For example, as overfishing reduces the amount of fish stock within the Arctic, seals which are one of the primary prey species of the polar bear would thus begin to migrate into regions that would have more fish available.
This would mean result in the outcome that polar bears would need to travel more in order to get food or the population would shrink as a result of the declining number of seals within the Arctic as well. It must also be noted that other species within the local area will also be similarly affected by changing climates within the area such as caribou and Snowy owls moving more in-land as the ice begins to recede.
Reasons behind Population Decline
a) Shrinking Environment
When examining the case of the polar bear and other Arctic species the main reason for their decline can be connected to global warming and how this shrinks their natural habitat. Within the past few years there have been news reports of increasing instances of species such as the polar bear and the arctic fox finding their way into various areas where people live such as in the outlying towns of Alaska and Canada.
This is particularly interesting to take note of since polar bear and arctic fox sightings are normally quite rare even in the wild and as such their increased presence near human civilization has been noted as indicative of the fact that something has been impacting their natural environments and causing them to go further in-land.
Scientific investigations into particular behavioral phenomena have turned up rather startling findings involving various polar bear carcasses within the surrounding waters of the Arctic which upon examination showed that they had drowned. This is particularly surprising since polar bears are actually one of the best swimmers of the animal kingdom.
Due to locations where the corpses were found (which were several miles from the nearest ice flow) and how it has been known that polar bears actually have a habit of swimming from ice flow to ice flow in order to catch prey, scientists hypothesize that the corpses found were of polar bears that had simply exhausted themselves swimming since they couldn’t find an ice flow near enough which various scientists conclude is a direct result of increasing temperatures within the Arctic.
Of particular interest to scientists is the fact that as the ice sheets within the Arctic shrink various species that rely on the sheets for protection and for hunting (i.e. seals and various Arctic based avian species) will need to go farther and farther away from shore in order to hunt thus increasing their chances of either exhaustion or being hunted by predators (International Business, 9).
Not only that, as hunting grounds continue to shrink there will certainly be a degree of interspecies competition resulting in a subsequent population decreases as there are less resources to go around.
b) Fewer prey species
Another factor that should be taken into consideration is the impact warmer weather will have on certain prey species. Various studies have noted that abrupt temperature changes as well as gradual topographic changes within a short period of time actual result in lower reproduction rates since the sudden changes actually interferes with the reproductive cycle of certain species (King, 30-33).
For example, certain species of Arctic krill which feed hundreds of aquatic species within the Arctic are actually sensitive to sudden changes in water temperatures which has actually adversely affected their reproductive cycle causing fewer krill to appear per year.
This has a cascading effect among the other species within the local environment as their main source of food becomes fewer per year. (Wildlife Declines Observed Across Arctic, 4) Not only that, warmer temperatures are actually conducive towards the reproductive cycle of certain species of fish within the Arctic which has actually caused a boom in their population. Unfortunately fish are among one of the largest consumers of krill which as further caused a reduction in the population of the species.
While ordinarily this may seem like an effective alternative to krill for some species (i.e. seals and killer whales) what must be understood is that species such as Blue Whale subsist almost entirely on krill and as such with fewer krill appearing in the waters of the Arctic the population of Blue Whales would of course decrease as a direct result.
II. Human Activities and their Impact on Species Extinction
All of the problems presented so far can be connected to one incontrovertible fact, that it is human activity that is behind what can only be described as an imbalance within the natural order of the environment. As human civilization continues to expand it brings with it an ever increasing demand for resources such as food, raw materials and space. Not only that, increased levels of industrialization in the form of the ever growing number of factories will be needed as the hunger for consumer goods continues to increase as well.
Unfortunately the end result of such actions is an increased level of strain on the ecosystem of the planet which has manifested itself in various ways. This comes in the form of erratic weather patterns, extended cases of drought or flooding as well as numerous odd climate changes that are unprecedented in the planet’s history.
There have been a variety of reports indicating an increase in the number of typhoons around the world, stronger storms, more cases of tornadoes within America’s Midwest as well as an assortment of climactic shifts which many scientists state is indicative of the impact of humanity’s activities on the planet.
Not only that, the hunger of humanity should not be underestimated, within the past century as the population has increased to seven billion individuals this has strained the ecologies of numerous areas around the world as various industries compete to harvest as much as they can in order to feed the insatiable hunger of the populace.
It is based on this that global warming and overharvesting can be stated as two of the main instruments that humanity has put into effect that are the primary causes of species extinction around the world either through habitat destruction or by merely being farmed into oblivion (Polar Bear Politics, 15).
a) Global Warming
The global warming phenomena has been traced to the continued release of greenhouse gases by factories, cars, and a variety of other industrial processes that have continued to grow unabated for the past century. Of particular interest is the fact that as these processes continue to expand as a direct result of the yearly human population increase this of course will have a negative impact on the global environment.
These increased temperatures have been shown to create stronger storms, droughts, floods and a variety of bizarre weather phenomena which many scientists have stated has actually lead to distinct changes in the reproductive cycle of certain animal species.
For example, it was seen that the rising water temperatures brought about by global warming have caused the eggs of certain species of fish to stop developing and merely die off. The inherent problem with this is that those eggs are needed in order to properly replenish the species that currently exist within the world’s oceans.
The impact of this on species in the Arctic is no less severe with the Snowy Owl, the Arctic Fox, the Polar Bear, seals and even Blue Whales experiencing delayed or otherwise absent reproductive cycles. With the cascading effects of a habitat wide decline in species this has the potential to wipe out a vast swath of species within not only the Arctic but all over the world as well (Bohannon, 4).
As of late, a variety of fishing vessels have ventured into the waters near the Arctic in order to fish, this is due to the abundant marine life within the area as well as fewer competition from vessels from other countries. The inherent problem though with commercial fishing fleets is that they have a habit of not knowing when to stop due to the rising demand for fish in global markets.
This has put a subsequent strain on the aquatic populations within the Arctic making it that much more difficult for the species present to replenish themselves adequately. The impact of such a method of overharvesting is obvious, with fewer fish to eat animals such as Arctic seals, Killer Whales, and a variety of other native species that subsist on their consumption have experienced rapid declines in populations as a direct result of unmitigated fishing practices within the local area.
This creates a domino effect wherein species that were already endangered to begin with are now in critical condition since not only are they finding fewer prey species to eat but as a whole their entire food chain has been drastically affected leading to disruption and potential destruction of their habitat.
III. Extinction of Species within the Arctic
a) Possibility of Extinction within the next 50 years
One of the more interesting aspects of current concerns related to the possible extinction of polar bears and other arctic species within the next 50 years is that various pundits and critics have stated that it is highly unlikely that such species will become extinct since it all hinges on the polar icecaps melting as a direct result of global warming yet for them global warming is nothing more than a myth or an exaggerated concern.
For example, on the syndicated TV program Penn and Teller “Bullsh*t” it was argued that while it may be true that humanity is capable of influencing the natural environment what it is doing at the present is nowhere near what is necessary to cause the catastrophic events elaborated on by numerous climatologists.
They point out that the Sun itself goes through various phases of dormancy and activity within a decades long cycle and that we are merely entering into a period of increased solar activity hence the fact global temperatures have increased. It must also be noted that on average the Earth’s climate and topography is in a constantly shifting state that changes with or without human interference. For example, the polar icecaps actually used to be nearer to the meridian several thousand years ago as compared to their current location.
This means that as the topography of the Earth and the climate shifts there would of course be changes to the various habitats of animal species. Is this indicative of the fact that the Arctic may disappear, probably, however this doesn’t mean that humanity was directly responsible for such changes to occur. In fact it might also be possible that the climate might shift again resulting in a restoration of the icecaps to their previous state.
b) Necessity of Intervention
On the other hand you have to take the following facts into consideration:
1.) There is obviously some form of human impact on the global environment since subsequent increases in industrialization have results in greater amounts of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere which have been proven to cause increased temperatures (Stokstad, 2).
2.) Overharvesting of various fish and aquatic specimens in the waters around the Arctic can lead to an imbalance in the food chain resulting in subsequent population declines.
3.) It has been determined that there is a definite decline in nearly 4,000 species within the Arctic and as such is indicative of something affecting their growth rates.
When taking all these factors into consideration it becomes obvious that human activity has indeed affected the species within the Arctic for the worse and as such necessitates the need for intervention in order to ensure their continued survival (Stokstad, 2).
Based on the various arguments and data snippets presented it can be stated that it is the result of human activity in the form of global warming and overharvesting that has lead to the decline of numerous species within the arctic. As such, if nothing is done within the immediate future it is obvious that not only will polar bears vanish off of the face of the Earth but several thousand species as well will be similarly affected.
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