Polar Bear Camera Captures Life-and-Death Struggle in the Arctic

02 February, 2018, 21:32 | Author: Keith Rowe
  • Polar bears find it hard to catch enough food, even in the best hunting season

But understanding the exact relationship between the loss of ice and the plight of the polar bear has been a little murky because it's hard to track the movements of these enormous apex predators in remote regions.

"By simultaneously measuring field metabolic rates, daily activity patterns, body condition, and foraging success of polar bears moving on the spring sea ice, we found that high metabolic rates (1.6 times greater than previously assumed) coupled with low intake of fat-rich marine mammal prey resulted in an energy deficit for more than half of the bears examined".

"Just to break even they have to capture at least one seal every five to 10 days - and that's just to break even", said study co-author George Durner, a USGS research zoologist.

"We've documented declines in the population, declines in the abundance, declines in the survival rates, declines in the body condition in the population", said lead author Anthony Pagano, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Anchorage office.

"This study is a handsome example of how animals are built to live in synchrony with their environment".

The results revealed higher-than-expected metabolic rates, meaning polar bears need a lot of fat-rich prey.

Sea ice is drifting further north so polar bears travel further to hunt.

The study published in Thursday's journal Science had been counducted on those white giants during the month of April and finds that shrinking of ice is causing the weight lose of those bears which is not good for them. "Eventually, you run out of gas".

"With the data from this study we can start to quantify what that means for the energy expenditure and how many seals they need to be catching".

Other researchers have shown declining polar bear populations across the Beaufort Sea region, but this study wasn't meant to address questions of overall polar bear decline in the North.

Until now, he said, we haven't had any hard numbers about how many seals the polar bears needed to eat.

This is an adult female polar bear on the sea ice wearing a Global Positioning System satellite video-camera collar.

It was once thought that polar bears could go into a kind of walking hibernating state when no food is around, decreasing their metabolic rates and thus their energy requirements.

The cameras recorded footage of bears catching seals and hauling them out of the ice, as well as of bears wrestling with large seals in frigid waters.

The bears need to do better than that during the spring-summer season if they're to survive the harsh winter, the scientists said.

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.

The loss of sea ice has a domino effect on the species, which, in 2008, became the first animal listed under the Endangered Species Act due to threats from climate change.

What makes it even more alarming is the fact that the bears were struggling to find food at the start of the period from April through July when these animals catch most of their prey and put on most of the body fat that help them sustain throughout the year.

"In the Beaufort Sea we are seeing that the ice is retreating much further to the north than it had historically", Mr Pagano said. "We will see more bears starving and more of them on land, where they will get into trouble by interacting with humans". But he added, "I think it confirms all the reasons to be concerned about polar bears from a conservation perspective are intact".

Previous studies estimate the mortality of male polar bears would increase from 6 per cent to 48 per cent if fasting periods increased from 120 days to 180 days.

But still, "when I see pictures of big glacial blocks breaking away and the sea ice is retreating, I get anxious", Fickel admits.

Best estimates say there are 20,000 to 30,000 polar bears in 19 different groups or populations scattered across the top of the U.S., Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russian Federation.



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