Thursday, 14 November, 2019

Climate change warning: polar bears' search for food is becoming more desperate

Rossi left and Ellen DeGeneres winner of the awards for favorite animated movie voice favorite daytime TV host and favorite comedic collaboration posing in the press room at the People's Choice Aw Climate change warning: polar bears' search for food is becoming more desperate
Sandra Phillips | 02 February, 2018, 20:02

Polar bears, the apex predators of the Arctic, need more fat-reach food than previously thought, but melting sea ice in the region makes it hard for them to meet their energy needs, a new research has revealed.

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.

But the scientists found the bear's metabolic rate was 1.6 times greater than previously thought - akin to that of other carnivores.

Pagano wanted to capture hard data on how often bears catch seals and how many they need to keep healthy and strong in their demanding environment.

As human-produced greenhouse gas emissions continue to fuel global warming, the Arctic sea ice levels continue to shrink by about 13.2 percent per decade.

Previous research efforts have attempted to estimate polar bears' energy expenditures and metabolic rates based on some inferences about their physiology and behavior.

"This was at the start of the period from April through July when polar bears catch most of their prey and put on most of the body fat they need to sustain them throughout the year", Pagano said in the statement. As rising temperatures thin the sea ice, wind and currents make it drift faster on the ocean surface. But less sea ice means they have to walk or swim more in search of food.

During spring, polar bears mostly prey on recently weaned ringed seals, which are easier to catch than adult seals.

"We found that they were really dependent on their ability to catch seals", Mr. Pagano said.

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Blaine Griffen, a Brigham Young University biology professor who wasn't part of the study, praised the USGS work, noting that past studies have looked at resting polar bears and polar bears on treadmills in the lab.

A polar bear rests on a chunk of sea ice in the Arctic.

"We found that polar bears actually have much higher energy demands than predicted".

"We've been documenting declines in polar bear survival rates, body condition, and population numbers over the past decade", Pagano said.

By comparing the bears' blood samples before and after, they could calculate the amount of carbon dioxide that the animal had produced, and thus its metabolic rate. The bears, therefore, are ending up burning more energy during the summer as they are fasting until the ice returns in the fall. Of the 9 bears in the study, more than half lost body mass during observation, which was conducted during what is supposed to be the most active hunting period of the year. They recorded dramatic, and at times, bloody seal hunts from the bear's perspective.

The Arctic is warming twice as rapidly as the global average, diminishing the sea ice that polar bears rely upon for food and forcing many to embark from water on to land where they desperately forage for goose eggs or rubbish from bins in far-flung towns.

The new study came in the wake of a video captured by filmmakers in Canada showing an emaciated polar bear scavenging for food from bins.

Though polar bears are known to live a "feast or famine" lifestyle, in which their weight fluctuates considerably, the creatures should have been gaining weight during the period studied, rather than losing it.

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.

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