The Polar Bear Cam Makes It Clear: It's Getting Tougher Out There
02 February, 2018, 21:52 | Author: Kristen Ingram
The Polar bears are facing a fast-paced decline as they are unable to find enough seals to eat, under the harsh weather conditions.
"We've been documenting declines in polar bear survival rates, body condition, and population numbers over the past decade", the study's first author Anthony Pagano, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a statement. Using collars equipped with video cameras and other high-tech instruments, Pagano was able to monitor the bears over an 8- to 11-day period in the spring, when the bears hunt most actively.
In the Beaufort Sea, for example, the polar bears are forced to move much greater distances than they previously did as the Arctic warms and more sea ice melts.
While scientists were quick to caution that the causes of the animal's condition remain unknown-disease, injury or any number of other factors could potentially have spelled its demise-experts are anxious that starving polar bears may soon become a more common sight as the sea ice they rely on for hunting grounds continues to melt away. Less sea ice means the bears have to work harder to find them. "They need to be catching more seals than would have been predicted previously". But later in the year, after the bears' long summer fast, those young seals are older and wiser, meaning polar bears are not able to catch as many.
For the study, the scientist tracked nine female polar bears in April 2014, 2015 and 2016. For more than a decade, San Diego Zoo Global's researchers and its US and Canadian partners have focused on contributing to science-based conservation strategies, to preserve and understand wild populations of polar bears. In the late spring, the ice is breaking up sooner and forming later in the fall, forcing bears to burn huge amounts of energy walking or swimming long distances to get to any remaining ice. In the Beaufort Sea, sea ice starts to retreat away from the continental shelf in July, and most of the bears move north on the ice as it retreats.
Five of the bears were recorded losing weight during the study.
"Unfortunately, with the rapid environmental changes occurring in Arctic sea ice, the specialisation that once allowed polar bears to live in this challenging habitat has painted the animals into a physiological corner and led to devastating consequences".
"This is an excellent paper that fills in a lot of missing information about polar bears", said Amstrup, who was not involved in the USGS research.
Adult female polar bear part of a recent study shown wearing a Global Positioning System video-camera collar on the sea ice of the Beaufort Sea. "That has a cost, and the animal has to find the energy to do that - or take it out of growth, reproduction, or survival", says polar bear biologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.
The research could help explain some of the population declines scientists have observed in the Beaufort Sea region over the last decade or so.
The study found that for one polar bear to sustain its energy level it would require an intake of 12,325 calories a day, usually one adult ringed seal every 10 days. These collars enabled researchers to understand the movements, behaviors, and foraging success of polar bears on the sea ice. Five populations are thought to be stable and there's not enough known about the others to judge.
Still, he said, the study backs up others looking at how polar bears are coping with shrinking sea ice, their favourite hunting platform.
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