Submitted by Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Their shrinking ice floe habitat under constant assault by climate change, polar bears are taking to the water to preserve their species. One female swam the equivalent distance between Boston and Washington D.C. in an effort to find more suitable habitat. The migration has caused a sad side-effect, as according to study author, George Durner, a USGS research zoologist, “Bears that engaged in long-distance swimming were more likely to experience cub loss.” Five of eleven polar bears that made these swims lost their cubs in the process.
Scientists have been tracking mother polar bears since 2004 by means of collar data collectors, but recently they noticed mysterious gaps in their data. Subsequent inquiry determined that these gaps were caused by the bears’ swims in the icy water. GPS data was then examined on 50 of the female bears to verify the swims of more than 30 miles.
Though constant for decades, summer sea ice has been shrinking constantly since 1995. In 2010, sea ice coverage was at the third lowest figure since data started being collected, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. There is no evidence to suggest polar bears made these incredible survival swims before the effects of global warming became so dire. “We’re pretty sure that these animals didn’t have to do these long swims before, because 687-kilometer stretches of open water didn’t occur very often in the evolutionary history of the polar bear,” said study co-author Steven Amstrupp, chief scientist for the conservation group Polar Bears International.
The bears seemed to have arrived at consensus on the issue of climate change, risking their cubs in the process, even as their more evolved counterparts on land continue to wrestle with the phenomenon. Perhaps the bears can lead the way.
Source: National Geographic News
~ Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger