In spite of previous studies that showed these large beautiful mammals can go on without food for long periods of time because they conserve their energy through “walking hibernation”, which decreases their physical activity, the new study concludes that this phenomenon does not really exist.
This basically means that polar bears are starving to death in the warmer season. As the temperatures increase due to climate change, the ice caps are constantly melting, which makes it more difficult for bears to hunt seals for food.
The most prolific period for them to hunt was from April to July, but this has changed considerably once the weather got warmer. Their inability to store energy makes it even harder for them to survive.
“We found that polar bears appear unable to meaningfully prolong their reliance on stored energy, confirming their vulnerability to lost hunting opportunities on the sea ice — even as they surprised us by also exhibiting an unusual ability to minimize heat loss while swimming in Arctic waters,” said lead author of the study John Whiteman, who is a doctoral student at the University of Wyoming.
The team of researchers took into account more than 24 bears, in which they implanted temperature loggers. They monitored these animals from 2008 to 2010 in the Beaufort Sea.
The scientists came to the conclusion that their body significantly deteriorated when they had nothing to eat, which means that the polar bears are not able to conserve their energy.
The most worrying aspect is that this will probably lead to most bears’ death once they are unable to hunt at all because of increased temperatures that give seals the opportunity to hide from them better.
Hunting takes a lot of their energy as well and, if it is not successful, it is very likely that exhaustion will contribute to the physical degradation of their bodies.
Due to the very small number of polar bears living worldwide, they have been placed on the list of threatened species since 2008.
The results of the study were published in the journal Science on the 16th of July.
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