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Melting ice threatens polar bears' survival

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Scientists have discovered that some polar bears are experiencing famine due to melting Arctic sea ice. As a result, they cannot adjust their diets to survive on land.

 

The renowned Arctic fauna often sustains itself by preying on ringed seals captured on ice floes in the open sea.


However, due to the melting ice caused by global warming, many bears are increasingly staying on land, consuming avian eggs, berries, and vegetation.


Nevertheless, the animals experience a quick decline in weight while on land, increasing the likelihood of mortality.


The region known as the 'Polar bear capital' is rapidly warming, negatively impacting the bear population. Endangered migration of species vital to the planet


The global temperature has exceeded the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming threshold for a year.


The polar bear has become the emblematic symbol for the escalating peril of climate change in the Arctic, although the actual consequences on this species are intricate. The decline in the bear population until the 1980s was mainly attributed to unsustainable hunting practices.


The increase in legal protection has led to a growth in the population of polar bears. However, the most significant danger they face is the rising global temperatures.

The freezing Arctic waters are crucial for their existence.


The animals use the sea ice as a hunting platform for capturing ringed seals, which possess significant fat reserves, particularly during the late spring and early summer.


However, throughout the summer months, several regions in the Arctic are seeing a growing absence of ice.


The research conducted in Western Manitoba reveals that the duration without ice has extended by three weeks from 1979 to 2015.


Scientists meticulously observed and documented the behaviours of a group of 20 polar bears throughout three summer seasons to comprehend the survival strategies of animals in the melting ice.


In addition to collecting blood samples and measuring the bears' weight, the animals were provided with collars that included video cameras and GPS technology.


This enabled the scientists to document the animals' locomotion, behaviours, and dietary habits.


During the summer months, when there is no ice, the bears use various techniques to ensure their survival, with some opting to rest and save their energy. Most individuals attempted to scavenge for flora or berries or ventured into the water for sustenance.


Both methodologies were unsuccessful, as 19 out of the 20 bears included in the study saw a reduction in body mass, with some instances showing a decline of up to 11%.

The image is sourced from USGS/WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY.


The researchers used collar-mounted cameras and GPS technology to monitor the bears' movements and behaviours. They had an average daily weight loss of one kilogram.


"Irrespective of the strategy employed, there was no tangible advantage to either approach in terms of extending the duration of their terrestrial survival," said Dr Anthony Pagano, the principal scientist from the US Geological Survey in Alaska.


"Polar bears are distinct from grizzly bears by more than just their white fur," said co-author Charles Robbins from the Washington State University Bear Centre. "They exhibit significant dissimilarities."


Two of the three bears who entered the water discovered the remains of deceased animals, although they only consumed them briefly due to exhaustion from their efforts.


According to Dr. Pagano, a sub-adult female encountered a deceased beluga whale. She consumed a few bites from it but primarily utilised it as a buoy for resting. Dr Pagano said: "This strongly implies that these bears are unable to eat and swim simultaneously."


Climate warming poses a significant hazard to polar bears since ice melting leads to a risk of famine.

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