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

Joy Montgomery
February 4, 2018

By tracking nine female bears in the Beaufort Sea region off the coast of Alaska last April, the researchers found that the bears' metabolic rates-that is, the amount of energy their bodies require to function-were about 60 percent higher than scientists had previously assumed. High-tech collars on the bears recorded video, locations, and activity levels over a period of eight to 11 days, while metabolic tracers enabled the team to determine how much energy the bears expended. "It shows that polar bears are more like the big cats-lions and tigers- predatory carnivores with high energy metabolisms", Amstrup said. Five of the nine bears were unable to achieve this during the research, resulting in plummeting body weight - as much as 20kg during a 10-day study period. "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". "This is what a starving bear looks like".

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.

A high fat diet based on blubbery seals is essential for providing the necessary energy for the bears to live in the cold, but sea ice changes have made it harder to find this critical prey, Williams said.

With in Arctic sea ice, there is a greater need to understand how polar bears use sea ice and will respond to anticipated environmental changes.

"The high energy requirements of polar bears corroborate previous hypotheses that most terrestrial Arctic habitats, lacking prey as energy-rich as marine mammals, can not provide enough food for polar bears driven to shore by loss of sea ice", Whiteman wrote in a commentary on the paper. Today, it is estimated that there are approximately 23,000 polar bears living throughout the Arctic.

While those Arctic ocean bears need ice in order to hunt for food during the spring, global warming is dwindling the blanket of ice across the locale.

To measure the animals' energy expenditure, they dosed the bears with doubly labeled water - water molecules whose hydrogen and oxygen atoms had been replaced with heavier isotopes with extra neutrons. The bears were fitted with Global Positioning System collars that had cameras to record point-of-view videos of each. Because of the video footage, the researchers know that these bears gained weight because they caught seals.

The researchers monitored the bears' activity levels and metabolic rates while they hunted.

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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.

According to recent measurements, the extent of Arctic sea ice is decreasing at a rate of about 14 percent in every 10 years, which can significantly reduce polar bears' access to seals.

Improvements in animal research technology gave us an opportunity to gain insight into the metabolism, behavior, foraging success and movement patterns of polar bears on sea ice.

Climate change is having dramatic effects on the Arctic sea ice, forcing polar bears to move greater distances and making it harder for them to catch prey.

The findings put grim numbers to the reality that polar bears face as sea ice continues to retreat, researchers said.

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.

Most of the time the bears tracked in the study did use the "sit and wait" technique.

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