Disappearing ice

January 26, 2011

Polar Bear Mother Loses Cub During Record-Setting Swim in Search of Sea Ice

Matt Barrett

female polar bear and cubs

Yale Environment 360 posted a story today about a female polar bear that, faced with rapidly disappearing summer sea ice in the Beaufort Sea (north of Alaska), was forced to make a nine-day, 426-mile swim in search of sufficient ice.

The trip caused her to lose 22 percent of her body fat and killed her yearling cub, according to U.S. researchers.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey placed a GPS collar on the female bear to track its movement for two months as it sought out ice floes where it could hunt its favored prey – ringed seals.

The GPS data showed that the female made the longest swim ever recorded by a polar bear, as it continuously paddled through waters that were 2 to 6 degrees C (3.6 to 11 F) for nine days.

“We were in awe that an animal that spends most of its time on the surface of the sea could swim constantly for so long in water so cold,” said zoologist George M. Durner. “It is truly an amazing feat.”

Yale Environment 360 also reports that the rapidly-rising Arctic temperatures, and the resultant melting of summer sea ice, is causing declines in the more southerly populations of polar bears.

Source: Yale Environment 360

Matt Barrett is marketing manager for climate change at The Nature Conservancy

Photo by: Flickr user Suzanne Miller/USFWS (Polar Bear Female With Cubs Along the Beaufort Sea). Used under a Creative Commons license

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