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Polar bears could become extinct faster than was feared, study says

04 February 2018, 01:21 | Franklin Nunez

Polar bears finding it harder to catch enough seals to meet energy demands

Polar bears find it hard to catch enough food, even in the best hunting season

They assume the bears' hunger for food is greater than previously estimated due to a lack of sea ice; that makes the bears have to roam over greater distances to find and kill prey.

Spring, just before the sea ice begins its seasonal breakup, is a critical time for polar bears to gain the weight they need to carry them through until the sea ice re-forms, so the researchers tracked the bears in April of 2014, 2015 and 2016. "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", said wildlife eco-physiologist Terrie Williams, a study co-author who heads the university's Center for Marine Mammal Research and Conservation.

Five of the nine bears that were examined in the study lost weight, amounting to approximately 10% of their body mass during the eight- to 11-day period.

A wrenching video published on National Geographic's website made that clear after going viral in December.

Polar bears may face extinction sooner than anticipated because they may not be able to find enough food to sustain them, a new study says.

As the ice dwindles, "we are essentially pulling the rug out from underneath the polar bears", Durner said.

"We now have the technology to learn how they are moving on the ice, their activity patterns and their energy needs so we can better understand the implications of these changes we are seeing in the sea ice".

"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.

The huge glacial ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are reacting more slowly to the warming atmosphere and oceans but scientists are watching them closely as they will heavily influence sea level rise if there's significant melting. Even though the findings are based on only a few female polar bears, the result will be same for the polar bears of other areas.

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Using the Global Positioning System and video collars and the metabolic information, the researchers determined that the more a bear had to search for food the more energy it used.

As climate change continues to have dramatic effects on the Arctic sea ice, polar bears are forced to cover greater distances, making it harder for them to catch prey.

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

A polar bear swims in the Beaufort Sea looking for ice near Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, Canada April 27, 2009.

Researchers also speculated that polar bears could lower their metabolic rate to save energy if they were not successful catching seals, Pagano said.

But scientists worry that ongoing climate-driven declines in Arctic sea ice, particularly during the warm months of the year, may be affecting the bears' hunting success.

Polar bears are starving and scientists believe that shrinking sea ice caused by climate change is to blame. This means they quickly start to lose weight that is essential for survival. It has been hard, however, for researchers to study the fundamental biology and behavior of polar bears in this very remote and harsh environment, Pagano said.

So don't give up yet on the powerful polar bear.

As with our planet as a whole, if you want to know the fate of polar bears in a warming world, you need to follow the energy.



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