Extinction may be closing in on polar bears faster than previously believed according to new research by the US Geological Survey. The USGS, along with UC Santa Cruz, followed nine polar bears over a three-year period for their research.
Biologists ascertained that the animals have much higher metabolisms than previously understood. Their need for prey has increased at a time when dwindling sea ice is making finding their favorite prey, seals, harder all the time.
The study found that the animals require one adult or three young seals every ten days for nourishment. But only four of the nine bears tracked were able to achieve that level of sustenance. The result, researchers found, was rapidly decreasing body weight among the animals – as much as 20kg, or 44lbs., every ten days.
“We were surprised to see such big changes in body masses, at a time when they should be putting on bulk to sustain them during the year. This and other studies suggest that polar bears aren’t able to meet their bodily demands like they once were,” Anthony Pagano, a USGS biologist who led the research said.
“We found a feast and famine lifestyle. If they missed out on seals it had a pretty dramatic effect on them,” he added.
Pagano’s team studied polar bears in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska. They fitted the bears with GPS collars and video cameras to measure activity levels. They also took blood from the animals. The study was conducted during a period in April over three years, from 2014 to 2016.