Venus the polar bear of the Ranua Zoo enjoys the snow in the polar bear’s enclosure in Ranua, Finnish Lapland on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. The snow was donated to the Ranua Wildlife Park by the Ruka ski center some 150 kilometers (90 miles) away, to help cool down the polar bears in temperatures of around 24 degrees Celsius (75 F), but were expected to cool down by weekend. (Marko Junttila/Ranua Zoo via AP) Venus the polar bear of the Ranua Zoo enjoys the snow in the polar bear’s enclosure in Ranua, Finnish Lapland. Marko Junttila/Ranua Zoo via AP)

High-tech cameras suggest polar bears having tougher time hunting

Researchers have attached tiny cameras to polar bears for a bear’s-eye view of them hunting on the sea ice, one of a suite of high-tech tools providing what could be the closest look yet at how the iconic animals are coping with a rapidly changing Arctic.

“This study was designed trying to get a much more detailed understanding of what the bears were actually doing on the ice,” said researcher Anthony Pagano of the University of California in Santa Cruz.

Pagano wanted to capture hard data on how often bears catch seals and how many they need to keep healthy and strong in their demanding environment.

He and his colleagues studied nine bears in the Beaufort Sea over the course of about a week during three successive Aprils from 2014 to 2016. They equipped the bears with GPS-enabled video cameras as well as with instruments to measure the speed and distance they travelled, how quickly they burned energy and how much time they spent in the water.

“It allowed us to actually monitor the behaviour of the animals,” said Pagano. “(The camera) gave a perspective right underneath the bear’s chin.”

One big conclusion is that polar bears need a lot more food than previously thought. Scientists have believed that because bears hunt mostly by waiting for a seal to pop through a blowhole, they don’t use much energy. Others theorized the bears were able to lower their metabolism during those waits.

Wrong, said Pagano. His study concludes bear metabolism is about 60 per cent higher than previous estimates, meaning the animals need to eat that many more seals to maintain weight.

“Overall, the metabolic rates of these animals are similar to other marine and terrestrial carnivores. They need to be catching more seals than would have been predicted previously.”

The cameras recorded footage of bears catching seals and hauling them out of the ice, as well as of bears wrestling with large seals in frigid waters.

“It was quite fascinating and really exciting to watch,” said Pagano.

Ominously, he found that five of his nine bears lost weight during the study, up to 10 per cent of their body mass. That’s despite the study taking place during the time when bears normally have their most successful hunting.

The Beaufort Sea has seen dramatic losses in sea ice. It’s population of polar bears is known to be in decline.

Pagano cautions the conclusions of his study are tempered by its small sample size and limited time span.

Andrew Derocher, a polar bear biologist at the University of Alberta, warned that there is wide variability between bears and different times of year.

“You might get a very different picture on weight gain from many more individuals,” he said.

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

“Pretty much every component they’ve found was largely confirmatory in nature,” Derocher said.

“The true beauty of this work is that it’s all integrated at once, in one place, in the same individual bears. You get a much more holistic perspective of the ecology of the bears.”

Just Posted

Photos: Red Deer barn dance entertains children, adults Tuesday

Hundreds of Central Albertans started their Westerner Days celebrations early with an… Continue reading

Manslaughter charge laid against Red Deer man more than a year after homicide

A manslaughter charge has been laid against a Red Deer man, more… Continue reading

Woman facing charges after pedestrian critically injured in hit and run

A woman is in custody in connection with an alleged hit and… Continue reading

Friday hail storm came at a bad time for farmers

Amount of damage a hail storm does often depends on how far along crops are

Record 10 homers as AL wins All-Star Game 8-6 in 10 innings

American League 8 National League 6 (1o innings) WASHINGTON — A record… Continue reading

Photos: Red Deer barn dance entertains children, adults Tuesday

Hundreds of Central Albertans started their Westerner Days celebrations early with an… Continue reading

Man suffers critical injuries, Red Deer police arrest woman in pedestrian crash

A man is in hospital with critical injuries and Mounties have arrested… Continue reading

Cull hasn’t been able to solve bunny burden in Alberta mountain town of Canmore

CANMORE, Alta. — Problems persist in an Alberta mountain town overrun with… Continue reading

Canada should help Holocaust denier on trial in Germany: civil liberties group

OTTAWA — A civil liberties group is urging the Canadian government to… Continue reading

Westerner Days: Send us your photos

Your reader photo may just make the pages of the Adovcate.

Adam Henrique signs $29.1M, 5-year extension with Ducks

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Centre Adam Henrique has signed a $29.1 million, five-year… Continue reading

Fashion firms upend design routine to focus on speed, trends

NEW YORK — Prototypes? Passe. Fashion company Betabrand saw that knitwear was… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month