Not enough seals for Polar Bears to survive

02 February, 2018, 21:49 | Author: Jacqueline Daniels
  • A polar bear with a GPS-video collar

United States scientists captured and fitted collars equipped with Global Positioning System and "bear cam" to nine cub-less female bears. Less sea ice means the bears have to work harder to find them.

"You're talking a pretty incredible amount of mass to lose", said US Geological Survey wildlife biologist Anthony Pagano, lead author of the study.

The scientists also analysed blood and urine samples taken at the beginning and end of each bear's 8-11 day journey across the ice fields to ascertain the animal's metabolic rate.

The problem is that many polar bears can't seem to find enough food to satisfy their high energy requirements.

Although polar bears have a larger range than other bears, the study also showed that because of declining sea ice the bears are having to swim and walk further than before to find seals, which increases energy expenditure.

That sea ice is shrinking at rates of up to 13 percent per decade across the Arctic, NASA satellite imagery shows, leaving the bears with less productive hunting area.

While four bears put on weight, five bears lost up to 10 per cent of their body weight - between 18 and 20 kg - in 10 days.

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But, the bears are likely to have.

"In the Beaufort Sea we are seeing that the ice is retreating much further to the north than it had historically", Mr Pagano said. The bears, therefore, are ending up burning more energy during the summer as they are fasting until the ice returns in the fall. 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. Metabolic tracers were used to determine how much energy the bears expended. For example, scientists have thought that since the bears are primarily "sit-and-wait" hunters, they would minimize their energy use while hunting.

Their energy consumption as calculated during the study was 1.6 times higher than previously thought.

The scientists estimated that an active female polar bear needed around 51 megajoules of energy a day. "This study identifies the mechanisms that are driving those declines by looking at the actual energy needs of polar bears and how often they're able to catch seals".

Polar bears are listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act and as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature - a designation just short of endangered on both lists.

As the sea ice cover on Earth's polar regions continues to fragment and diminish, it has a clear and negative impact on some regional populations of polar bears in the Arctic.

"As they reduce that amount of time it follows that they catch fewer seals total and they are taking in a lower amount of energy". Then they attacked them by jumping on them. Previous studies found other animals are going without food longer than they did in the 1980s and 1990s, the study notes.

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So what happens when times are tough?

All over the Arctic, scientists have seen evidence of weakened polar bears, Pagano said.

As the ice dwindles, "we are essentially pulling the rug out from underneath the polar bears", Durner said. "Polar bears are reliant on seals for food and seals rely on sea ice".

But more tracking and monitoring will be necessary to fully understand what's happening to the bears.

Canada, home to two-thirds of the world's population of roughly 30,000 polar bears, has done a good job surveying subpopulations, making sure the polar bear trade is legally regulated, and incorporating traditional knowledge into polar bear management, the WWF said.

"You might get a very different picture on weight gain from many more individuals", he said.

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