Polar bears 'working out of meals'

02 February, 2018, 21:53 | Author: Grady King
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That has ominous implications for a future in which sea ice is ever scarcer. Global Positioning System video-camera collars were applied to solitary adult female polar bears for 8 to 12 days in April, 2014-2016. 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 study involved tracking and filming bears over 8 to 11 days in 2014-15-16 and included taking blood and urine samples to determine condition and things like metabolic rates.

In December past year, a video of a dying polar bear rummaging in trash and eating styrofoam, assumed to be starving, went viral on social media.

For now, the study demonstrates that bears' energy demands are likely higher than expected-meaning they require more food to survive than previously thought-and that failure to catch seals can result in rapid, significant weight loss. However, it seems these savings are small at best.

By catching their favourite prey - ringed seals - every 10 to 12 days, a female polar bear will maintain weight levels of around 450lbs, yet the challenge of fulfilling a consumption rate of 220 Big Macs over this short period is becoming increasingly fraught.

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.

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And polar bears now need more food than in the past, a study found.

Though Pagano's study focuses on just, numerous other populations around the Arctic likely face the same challenges, says Derocher.

"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.

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.

The vision of a polar bear plucking a vulnerable seal off an ice floe is something familiar to wildlife documentary fanatics. Now, scientists can see the effects: Polar bears are swimming themselves to the brink of starvation.

Photographs of super-skinny polar bears with ribs poking through snowy-white coats have become a doomsday image of the problems faced by these highly specialised creatures - now down to as few as 22,000 individuals - because of climate change. "They need to be catching a lot of seals", Pagano said. "Activity and movement on the sea ice strongly influenced metabolic demands", the researchers summarized in the abstract of their paper.

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Five of the bears were recorded losing weight during the study.

In the Beaufort Sea, where the study was undertaken, previous monitoring has identified a 40 per cent decline in polar bear numbers from 2001 to 2010. Today, it is estimated that there are approximately 23,000 polar bears living throughout 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.

"In the Beaufort Sea we are seeing that the ice is retreating much further to the north than it had historically", Mr Pagano said.

"You're seeing everything it is seeing", Durner said. There, Arctic warming causes sea ice to break up earlier in the summer and return later in the fall, which forces the bears to spend more time on land.

"While the Canadian government has made impressive progress in polar-bear science and policy, there is only so much that can be done on such a limited budget".

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