April 13, 2024

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Watch: Rare footage showing the lives of polar bears through their eyes

Watch: Rare footage showing the lives of polar bears through their eyes

Global warming is known to be bad for polar bears. The reason is simple: sea ice provides a platform from which these massive predators can hunt seals, their primary food source. Climate change is dramatically reducing the number of weeks that the Arctic oceans are covered by ice each year. As a result, polar bears spend more time on land, where high-calorie foods are more difficult to access.

What this meant for the survival of these special creatures, however, was a mystery. Can they handle life on Earth?

In search of answers, scientists attached recording devices to 20 polar bears in Canada's Hudson Bay, where the ice-free period has increased by about three weeks since 1979, as part of study Published today in the magazine Nature Communications. The cameras recorded 115 hours of footage over the last three years, providing a rare window into the lives of these animals on Earth.

The clips, some of which are stitched together in the video below, show the bears feeding on bird carcasses (at the 2:30 mark), eating berries and grasses (at 3:15), and chewing on some marine mammals, including beluga whales. Pisces (at 5:00).

At times, these giant creatures — which can weigh more than 1,500 pounds — appear to act like dogs, and sometimes play fights in the water (2:42) and devour horns (3:06).

(You can find more descriptions with timestamps about what's happening in these clips here.)

The clips are not only cute and entertaining, they are very revealing.

“We were blown away by the video,” Anthony Pagano, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Alaska who led the study, said in an email to Vox. “The video footage really highlighted how intelligent these animals are by using different behavioral strategies to survive while on land without access to their primary prey.”

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Before these videos were taken, scientists suspected that polar bears might adapt to life on land by either resting to save energy (i.e., burning fewer calories) or satiating other prey, such as seabirds and plants. These bears eventually used both approaches, according to footage and other data collected by scientists, including measurements of movement, body mass, and energy burned. Some individuals positioned themselves to conserve energy while others were actively searching for food.

However, neither approach has been particularly successful. All but one of the 20 bears lost weight, indicating they will eventually starve. One individual lost approximately 80 pounds.

US Geological Survey/Washington State University

The study revealed that some of the bears took long swims, which is “novel and unexpected for this time of year,” Andrew Desrocher, a polar bear expert at the University of Alberta, who was not involved in the study, said in an email. “These are likely acts of desperation,” he added. “Hungry, thin bears take more risks than fat bears.”

Research reveals that eating berries and other foods does little to stave off hunger. “This study actually carries the message that there is no escape from terrestrial feeding to help polar bears during the ice-free period,” Desrocher said.

Researchers estimate that the number of polar bears in this area has actually declined 30 percent Since 1987. This study provides further evidence that further global warming – i.e. less ice – will only make an already bad situation worse. “As land use increases, we are likely to see increases in famine,” Pagano said in an article. statement.

US Geological Survey/Washington State University

Some polar bear populations elsewhere may be more resilient to global warming, at least in the short term, as Vox previously reported. Scientists have observed a group of bears in southeast Greenland hunting using ice that breaks off from glaciers, which is available year-round in some places. (While sea ice is frozen ocean water, glaciers consist of ice compressed over time into large sheets of ice that flow like a slow-moving river.)

In a warming world, areas with glacial ice, such as Greenland and Svalbard, may be a stronghold for these species, helping them survive. It's not quite good News, scientists warn. Instead, it heralds the final act of the tragedy, revealing where the last vestiges of the species may live.

For now, we're lucky to be able to catch a glimpse into the lives of polar bears through their eyes. In the future, there will likely be a lot to see.

Correction, February 13, 12:15 PM ET: This story has been changed to reflect the full name of the publication Nature Communications.