Polar bears going hungry as Arctic ice melts

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Geological Survey using a video camera collar as part of their research, the incredible footage shows polar bears in their natural habitat.

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

Researchers can't withstand the -20C or even -30C temperatures to study the bears for long in their natural environment, so for a long time their basic behaviours were quite a mystery. Scientists have believed that because bears hunt mostly by waiting for a seal to pop through a blowhole, they don't use much energy.

The scientists estimated that a female bear would need to eat either one adult ringed seal, three subadult ringed seals or 19 newborn ringed seal pups every 10 to 12 days to remain in energy balance.

In another, the camera gets very close to the bear's mouth, showing the water dripping from its fur as it nudges another bear in the water below before it submerges and leaves.

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

Five of the nine bears studied lost body mass, indicating they were unable to catch enough prey to meet their energy demands.

USGS researchers have been studying polar bears in the Beaufort Sea area since the 1980s and have found that polar bear population has declined by 40 percent in the past decade.

Although capable of swimming long distances, polar bears burn far more energy doing so than walking, a recent study published in Polar Biology found.

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.

While the conclusions of Pagano's study may be grim for polar bears, he was buoyed by the fact that technology is finally able to give them concrete reasons for the loss of these charismatic creatures.

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 a dramatic impact on Arctic sea ice, forcing polar bears to travel greater distances and making it more hard for them to catch prey.

Polar bears are listed by the United States government as a threatened species but the Trump administration has reversed measures that tackle climate change, with the president himself seemingly unaware of the situation in the Arctic.

It all comes down to metabolism, the rate at which the bears use energy, according to Anthony Pagano, a PhD candidate at U.C. Santa Cruz and lead author of the study.

In the Beaufort Sea, for example, the polar bears are forced to move much greater distances than they previously did as the Arctic warms and more sea ice melts.

To measure the animals' energy needs, the researchers injected them with a tracable (nonradioactive) element.

"Overall, the metabolic rates of these animals are similar to other marine and terrestrial carnivores".

Still, he said, the study backs up others looking at how polar bears are coping with shrinking sea ice, their favourite hunting platform.

"Nobody can conclude from the study that polar bears will get extinct", he tells DW. "And as they take in a lower amount of energy over time their body condition declines and then they get to the point where their reproduction and their survival becomes hindered".

"In a population, there are always individuals who cope better or worse with any changes".

"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.

The Beaufort Sea has seen dramatic losses in sea ice. Its content is created separately from USA TODAY.

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