This week, over 450 United States television stations will air a public service announcement from the Center for Biological Diversity that aims to highlight the global climate crisis and its devastating effects on polar bears. 

Polar bears rely completely on the stability of Arctic sea ice – solid floes of ice allow them to search for a mate, raise their young, and most importantly, hunt. As global temperatures rise, that precious real estate is thinning at an alarming rate, leaving the iconic bears stranded amongst the slush.

"[Climate change] is pushing polar bears to the absolute brink," says Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center. "It’s one thing to read about their plight, but to witness them struggling, even on a screen, is incredibly powerful." 

Though polar bears are known to swim vast distances, up to 354 kilometres (220 miles), the continuously thinning Arctic ice forces them to swim farther each year in search of stable habitat. 

"Polar bears probably lacked the opportunity or need to make such long swims in that part of the Arctic in the past,” says Karen Oakley, a supervising biologist at the USGS Alaska Science Center. "In past decades, polar bears were always able to rest on available floating summer sea ice," she says.

Though Arctic ice levels have come up since a record-breaking low in 2012, this does not mean wildlife is in the clear.

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic ice coverage has remained below average since reaching its annual maximum in March of this year, and is still reported unusually thin and vulnerable ... Suckling hopes the new PSA will help drive this message home.

"Millions of people will see these PSAs and come away with an unmistakable message: we've got to move quickly if we're going to avoid the worst-case devastation," she says.

Top header image: Michael Bamford/Flickr