Speed Reads

shrinking ice

Polar bears displaced by melting ice create a tourist boom in an Alaskan town

Each fall, the small Alaskan village of Kaktovik experiences a tourism boom — and lately, it's coming due to climate change. Polar bears trek to the tiny town as rising temperatures melt the sea ice on which they live, and tourists with cameras follow, ABC News reports.

Scientists estimate that the presence of sea ice declines at a rate of 9 percent every decade. As the ice melts, it takes polar bear territory and hunting grounds with it. Alaskan locals told ABC News that hungry polar bears descend on the town to feed on the leftover carcasses from annual whale hunts.

Polar bears used to arrive in the town around late September, ABC News reports, but now they arrive as early as July. "We've been hunting whales for about 10,000 years. So they're not coming here because of the bones, the remains of the whales that we catch. They are coming because their habitat has gone away," said Robert Thompson, a local tour guide.

The animals can be vicious if provoked, so Kaktovik locals have set up bear patrols for safety. Still, that doesn't deter tourists, who take boats to get as close as possible to capture photos of the rare species.

Polar bears are at high risk of endangerment, and only 20,000 to 25,000 bears remain out of captivity.