Polar Bears Are Swimming Themselves To Death As Sea Ice Melts

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The decline of Arctic sea ice amid global climate change is making polar bears travel farther to find prey such as ringed seals.

"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.

The bear videos showed researchers all sorts of usually private aspects of polar bear life, including courtship and hunting.

Researchers have attached tiny cameras to polar bears for a bear's-eye view of them hunting on the sea ice, one of a suite of high-tech tools providing what could be the closest look yet at how the iconic animals are coping with a rapidly changing Arctic. In April 2014, 2015 and 2016, researchers outfitted nine female bears with global-positioning-system-equipped video collars and activity trackers.

Their energy consumption as calculated during the study was 1.6 times higher than previously thought. "They need to be catching a lot of seals", he said.

Polar bears rely on energy-rich foods such as ring seals to bulk up in spring and summer to survive the lean times when they're fasting. Now, scientists can see the effects: Polar bears are swimming themselves to the brink of starvation.

Derocher said since the study used a small sample size over a short period, follow-up research should follow more animals over a longer stretch. Turns out they are high-energy beasts, burning through 12,325 calories a day-despite sitting around most of the time, according to a unique metabolic analysis of wild bears published Thursday in Science. The four bears that lost significant amounts of weight had been unable to catch any seals. As the ice retreats farther and farther north, the bears may be forced to walk or even swim long distances just to reach a suitable hunting ground.

The bears' metabolic rates averaged more than 50 percent higher than previous studies had estimated.

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"That [number] tells us a lot about modelling into the future what's going to happen with the bears".

"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".

If these results hold up, then it shows that the loss of sea ice may have a bigger impact on the bears than previously thought, said Amstrup, a former USGS polar bear expert.

USGS researchers have been studying polar bears in the Beaufort Sea area since the 1980s and have found that polar bear population has declined by 40 percent in the past decade.

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.

Polar bears are listed by the U.S. government as a threatened species but the Trump administration has reversed measures that tackle climate change, with the president himself seemingly unaware of the situation in the Arctic.

"It's a really strong study", said Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for Polar Bears International, a conservation-focused organization, who was not involved with the work.

"The chain of logic that everyone is concerned about is that the melting of sea ice reduces the amount of time that bears get to spend on sea ice in the productive regions where seals are concentrated", said Professor Whiteman, who wrote a commentary in Science. Five populations are thought to be stable and there's not enough known about the others to judge.

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