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Study shows polar bear metabolic rates are higher than previously predicted

Study shows polar bear metabolic rates are higher than previously predicted

As the bears roam the Arctic sea ice hunting seals, they use more energy than expected. High-tech collars on the bears recorded video, locations, and activity levels over a period of eight to 11 days, while metabolic tracers enabled the team to determine how much energy the bears expended.

"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".

"Nobody can conclude from the study that polar bears will get extinct", he tells DW. The bears were fitted with Global Positioning System collars that had cameras to record point-of-view videos of each.

"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.

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.

"They found that high energy demands required consumption of high-fat prey, such as seals, which are easy to come by on sea ice but almost unavailable in ice-free conditions", the abstract to their paper says. Or they stay on land longer, spending the summer and, increasingly, the fall fasting, living off their fat from the seals they caught in the spring. 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.

"Spring is the pupping season for the seals", said Dr. Bechshoft.

Anthony Pagano, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the lead author of the study, says this is the first time a group of polar bears has been studied this intensely.

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Climate change is having dramatic effects on the Arctic sea ice, forcing polar bears to move greater distances and making it harder for them to catch prey.

"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".

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.

Until then experts had assumed that polar bears required less energy because they have no natural predators and their hunting method does not involve a lot of physical exertion: They sit on ice floes and wait for seals to emerge.

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.

"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". A study published this week in Science found the endangered species may need much more energy to survive than previously believed.

The data collected showed that numerous polar bears ran on an energy deficit, and the metabolic rates, which is the amount of energy their bodies need to function, averaged more than 50 percent higher than previous studies predicted. Our measures of metabolism were considerably higher than previous estimates of polar bear metabolic rates.

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