Climate change is making polar bears go hungry, study finds

A polar bear with a GPS-video collar

For their research, the scientists spied on the polar bears by equipping nine female white giants with tracking collars that had video cameras and the bear equivalent of a Fitbit during three recent springs. However, the scientists found that the polar bears burned more energy than they were able to take in from their prey.

"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".

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

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. But since the seals are hard to come by in ice-free conditions, which are lasting longer every year, the polar bears are struggling.

"Two-thirds of the world's polar bears could die out by 2050", cautions WWF, demanding an immediate decline in greenhouse gas emissions so the bears can stand a chance of survival.

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

In an average, the metabolic rates of the monitored polar bears were over 50 percent higher than previously predicted by other studies. These animals lost weight during the period that they were observed. Over the course of the study, five of the nine bears lost body mass, meaning they weren't taking in enough food to meet those energy demands.

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.

"We've been documenting declines in polar bear survival rates, body condition, and population numbers over the past decade", the study's first author Anthony Pagano, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a statement.

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"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". A few of the bears travelled more than 155 miles (250 kilometers) in about 10 days off the northern coast of Alaska in the Beaufort Sea, Pagano said.

All over the Arctic, scientists have seen evidence of weakened polar bears, Pagano said.

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.

"Just to break even they have to capture at least one seal every five to 10 days - and that's just to break even", said study co-author George Durner, a USGS research zoologist.

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.

A latest study led by a group of researchers from US Geological Survey has found that some polar bears in parts of the Arctic are losing weights substantially while this is the time when they should gain more.

Most of the time the bears tracked in the study did use the "sit and wait" technique.

Previous studies estimate the mortality of male polar bears would increase from 6 per cent to 48 per cent if fasting periods increased from 120 days to 180 days.



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