Polar Bears Forced To Swim More As Ice Melts

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Climate change is affecting humans and animals alike, with polar bears suffering the immediate effects of melting polar ice caps.

While scientists worry about the eventual effects of rising sea levels on human habitats, polar bears are already having to adapt to new situations caused by climate change. Researchers have found that the bears are having to swim further and further in search of food due to melting ice caps.

Polar bears affected by climate change

Researchers working on this latest study looked into the swimming behavior of polar bears. They were most interested in whether polar bears were swimming more now than in the past.

“Recent studies indicate that swimming may be energetically costly to polar bears,” said Nicholas Pilfold, a postdoctoral fellow at San Diego Zoo Global who was involved in this latest study. “Given the continued trend of sea ice loss, we recognize that an increased frequency in the need to engage in this behavior may have serious implications for populations of polar bears living around the Arctic Basin.”

While it may come as no surprise that polar bears expend energy when they swim, the study reveals just how much this extra excercise affects them. The scientists looked at satellite-linked telemetry-tracked polar bear populations that live in the Beaufort Sea and Hudson Bay.

Longer swims more common than before

Results showed that the polar bears are swimming more than before, and this increase is associated with smaller ice caps due to climate change. In 2012 Arctic sea ice hit a record low, and 69% of tracked adult females swam over 31 miles at least once in the Beaufort Sea area.

Data showed that these long swims were more common in the Beaufort Sea than the Hudson Bay. Those females with young cubs were less likely to swim so as not to force young bears to suffer in cold waters.

Otherwise it was noted that lone subadults swam just as often as lone adults. The longest swim recorded by the team was by a subadult female, who moved 249 miles over 9 days.

Future effects could be devastating

The study shows that polar bears are being forced into the water more often, which can damage their health. Survival rates could start to drop as less sea ice is available each year.

“The pattern of long-distance swimming by polar bears in the Beaufort Sea shows the fingerprint of climate change,” Pilfold said. “Swims are occurring more often, in association with sea ice melting faster and moving farther from shore in the summer.”

The full results of the study can be found in the April 14 issue of the journal Ecography.

Melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels constitute a threat to human beings as well as polar bears. It is estimated that trillions of dollars in assets could be threatened by the effects of climate change.

Other studies reveal that millions of Americans are in danger of being displaced from their homes if sea levels continue to rise. Far from being something that only concerns ecologically-minded individuals, it is in the interests of all of us to find ways to halt climate change.

It won’t seem like someone else’s problem when the sea is lapping at your front door and your investments plummet in value due to social conflicts caused by new competition for resources.

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