nsucurrent.com April 21, 2018

Not enough seals for Polar Bears to survive

02 February 2018, 09:13 | Shelley Chandler

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

Polar bears

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. "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".

Researchers followed nine polar bears over a three-year period and found that an adult polar bear requires at least one adult seal or three juveniles every 10 days to sustain itself, according to a USGS press release. Eight to 11 days later they were all re-captured.

The bears' metabolic rate was more the 50 per cent higher than previous studies had suggested.

The article published by USGS after the two year study established that more than half of the bears lost body mass, meaning they were spending energy chasing food and not consuming enough.

The cameras recorded footage of bears catching seals and hauling them out of the ice, as well as of bears wrestling with large seals in frigid waters.

But, the bears are likely to have. "Every piece of evidence shows that polar bears are dependent on sea ice and if we don't change the trajectory of sea ice decline, polar bears will ultimately disappear. They need to be catching a lot of seals", Pagano said.

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. In the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska, sea ice begins to recede from the continental shelf in July and most of the bears travel north on the ice as it withdraws.

"When you're talking about some places extending their melt season to double digits by the end of the decade we're not that far out from that kind of lengthening of the melt period in some parts of the Arctic", he said.

"Arctic communities are not prepared to deal with such a spill, and when it happens the contaminants will have long-term impacts on important habitat for wildlife, including polar bears, whales and fish", said Paul Crowley, vice president of Arctic conservation for WWF-Canada, in a scorecard that included nation-by-nation evaluations in areas such as management of human and polar bear conflict.

Polar bears could be sliding towards extinction faster than previously feared, with the animals facing an increasing struggle to find enough food to survive as climate change steadily transforms their environment. Eventually they start losing muscle, hurting their chances of hunting success, which can lead to a downward spiral.

"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. While the decline has been easy to observe, the causes have been more elusive, given the remote areas the bears inhabit.

This resulted in plummeting weight in four of the nine bears studied.

More swimming could lead to smaller bears, reduced reproduction rates, and even increased risk of death-something already being seen in western Hudson Bay and around the southern Beaufort Sea, Griffen said. "I don't know if that poor bear in that video was starving".

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