AboutZoos, Since 2008


Den and the art of polar bear research

pub­lished 12 April 2014 | mod­i­fied 12 April 2014

Every autumn, in the Arc­tic arch­i­pel­ago of Sval­bard, polar bears build dens to give birth and nurse their young through the first days of life. Know­ing how many cubs are born – and where their dens are located – is crit­i­cal to under­stand­ing the sta­tus of the bears as they face a future of rapidly decreas­ing ice.

Polar bear cubs in denWhen the polar bears of Sval­bard ven­ture from their dens this year, a joint expe­di­tion of WWF-​Canon and the Nor­we­gian Polar Insti­tute (NPI) will be there to observe how the bears are adapt­ing to chang­ing sea ice con­di­tions. The WWF-​Canon expe­di­tion arrived only weeks after the max­i­mum extent of Arc­tic sea ice was found to be at its fifth low­est level in the satel­lite record. A recently pub­lished paper also sug­gests that the Sval­bard expe­di­tion area will be ice-​free in sum­mer by 2050.

The fol­low­ing video shows one model of how the sum­mer Arc­tic ice cap may van­ish over the years through 2049, cour­tesy of Uni­ver­sity Cor­po­ra­tion for Atmos­pheric Research:

We don’t know what the future holds for these bears. We do know that bear pop­u­la­tions deprived of sea ice for sig­nif­i­cant amounts of time are less likely to sur­vive or breed successfully.
(Geoff York, WWF polar bear lead)

There is some evi­dence that the Sval­bard pop­u­la­tion is mov­ing away from tra­di­tional den­ning sites on the Nor­we­gian islands. The bears need to be close to sea ice to hunt when they emerge from their dens. One pos­si­bil­ity is that they are mov­ing fur­ther east where the ice sur­vives longer.

“For WWF, this is impor­tant work to under­stand how many cubs were born last win­ter and where they were born,” said Gert Polet, an Arc­tic expert with WWF-​Netherlands. “We want to see how polar bears use an area that is encoun­ter­ing such rapid change because of melt­ing and shift­ing sea ice.”

NPI researchers will place satel­lite col­lars on female bears so that they can track their travel over the next year. Com­par­ing the posi­tion of the bears to satel­lite infor­ma­tion about the sea ice will help explain how polar bears are respond­ing to ice con­di­tions and how they might adapt to future changes.

Four of the bears col­lared dur­ing the expe­di­tion can be fol­lowed on WWF’s polar bear tracker as soon as the satel­lite col­lars are acti­vated. The NPI and WWF-​Canon expe­di­tion runs from April 11 through April 21 and can be fol­lowed at http://​panda​.org/​s​v​a​l​b​a​r​d

The expe­di­tion is spon­sored by Canon Europe, Con­ser­va­tion Imag­ing Part­ner of WWF Inter­na­tional. Canon has a long­stand­ing part­ner­ship with WWF that goes back over six­teen years, using imag­ing exper­tise to help WWF record and pro­mote aware­ness of the state of the envi­ron­ment and cli­mate change. Canon is sup­ply­ing pho­to­graphic equip­ment for this project and spon­sor­ing a lead­ing Swedish wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher and Canon Ambas­sador, Bru­tus Östling, to cap­ture images of the wildlife encoun­tered along the way.

(Source: WWF Global news, 10.04.2014)

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