Polar bears might be worse off than we thought, study finds

Polar bears might be worse off than we thought, study finds

The study suggests that polar bears need more energy to survive than previously thought-and they might not be catching enough prey to meet those demands.

Over the course of the study, four of the nine seals did not reach that calorie level and lost a combined mass of 20 kilograms (44 pounds), which "reinforced the starvation lifestyle the polar bears have", Pagano said.

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.

To measure the energy needs of wild polar bears, a team of biologists tracked free-ranging bears on sea ice near the northern coast of Alaska during spring, the animals' prime hunting season.

While scientists were quick to caution that the causes of the animal's condition remain unknown-disease, injury or any number of other factors could potentially have spelled its demise-experts are anxious that starving polar bears may soon become a more common sight as the sea ice they rely on for hunting grounds continues to melt away. Despite what you may have heard, the sea ice that makes up their hunting grounds has been diminishing by about 14 percent a decade, and the ice that does form freezes later and melts earlier.

Analysis of the bears' metabolism revealed they required at least one seal every 10 days to satisfy their dietary needs, but numerous bears were unable to capture enough. Now, scientists can see the effects: Polar bears are swimming themselves to the brink of starvation.

Polar Bears, one of the most brawny predators in the world, are struggling to survive as the seal population in the Arctic regions continues to dwindle. The four bears that lost significant amounts of weight had been unable to catch any seals.

"The bears are moving with the ice and moving into these deeper water areas where it's thought they are having much less opportunity to catch seals".

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"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 metabolic rates Pagano and his fellow researchers observed were, on average, 50 percent higher than previous studies predicted.

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

The vision of a polar bear plucking a vulnerable seal off an ice floe is something familiar to wildlife documentary fanatics.

The fact that climate change might hit polar bears hard is not a surprise. "Unfortunately, with the rapid environmental changes occurring in Arctic sea ice, the specialization 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.

They concluded that a female polar bear must eat a fully grown seal every 12 days to meet its energy requirement.

"We want to get a better understanding for what that means for their energy demands, how many seals they need to be catching as they move these greater distances", he said.

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. 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. Five populations are thought to be stable and there's not enough known about the others to judge.

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