Nine-day endurance test to find food
A polar bear has been observed swimming for nine consecutive days – a record beyond anything ever seen or expected by people who study bears.
The news comes from a study by scientists from the US Geological Survey who watched the animals around the Beaufort Sea, just north of Alaska. Their report is featured in the journal Polar Biology and said that the bear’s incredible endurance could have come as a result of global climate change.
George M. Durner, a zoologist from the project, says that the bear had swum an astonishing distance of 426 miles over nine days in waters that were just above freezing. He calls it a “truly amazing feat” that’s never been seen before.
The team was able to track the polar bear through a GPS device on a collar they had previously put on her.
Sadly, the extraordinary journey in search of food cost her more than a fifth of her stored body fat, and also the life of her year-old cub, who began the journey with her, but did not survive.
Polar bears routinely swim from the shore to ice floes as they search for the ringed seals who are their primary food source. But as the waters grow warmer in the polar regions, there are fewer and fewer ice floes, and they’re further and further apart.
When this bear eventually found an ice floe, it was far out to sea and in waters 9,800 feet deep – too deep and too far out for seals who tend to hang out around the continental shelf, where the water is about 300 feet deep. A day later, she set out again, this time for the shore.
Conservation groups, the state of Alaska, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and several other groups are locked in litigation in Washington, D.C., over polar bear protections and how much needs to be done to slow the pace of climate change to prevent further shrinking of their habitat.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have agreed that climate change presents “serious threats” to the polar bears by melting their Arctic habitat. But it says that the threat is “in the foreseeable future,” and the polar bears are not “in danger of extinction.”
The reason behind this statement, and calling the bears “threatened” is that listing the polar bears as “endangered” would lead to federal protection of areas where companies want to drill for oil and gas.