A stunning short video on GoPro’s YouTube channel offers a glimpse into the secret lives of a family of polar bears on a quest to find sea ice, but also serves as a sad reminder of their plight in a changing climate.
The footage was taken by filmmaker Adam Ravetch of Arctic Bear Productions, who is also co-founder of the Arctic Exploration Fund, an organization that’s dedicated to discovering and documenting how wild animals in the Arctic are responding to a changing climate.
Ravetch has also been working in collaboration with Anthony Pagano, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey studying how polar bears are responding to a loss of sea ice. The agency also released footage showing life from a polar bear’s point of view earlier this month as part of the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative, which will help guide conservation efforts for polar bears in the future.
As researchers note, while their locations have been monitored in the field, there hasn’t been much behavior seen. With video collars that can survive the cold temperatures now being added to scientists’ toolkits, they can now observe more about life from a polar bear’s perspective.
Earlier this month Ravetch told the New York Times that the cameras have helped scientists find out more about what polar bears are up to and has led to some interesting discoveries, including the revelation that they really like berries, which were thought to have little nutritional value for them:
So far we’ve seen clips of the bears resting, swimming, exhibiting breeding behavior (wrestling), playing and eating a seal. In more deployments, with accelerometers attached to the cameras to record the animals’ movements in detail, the scientist will be able to paint an accurate picture of a bear’s energy output, year-round, correlated with the activity they are exhibiting.
How do they expend energy differently from summer to fall? Now we will be able to see it. How many seals do they actually catch and eat year round? Now we will see their feeding behavior. Do they follow the diminishing ice or head to land? Now we can see it.
Hopefully their work can lead to helping them survive in the future. Polar bears, who have become the poster animals for climate change, are currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which cites their numbers between 20,000 and 25,000. Still there’s no solid estimate of these bears who continue to face the threat of losing ice that’s essential to their survival. They’re already believed to be starving and drowning because they have to swim longer distances to reach ice.
Sadly, the U.S. Geological Survey predicts that two-thirds of all polar bears, including all bears in Alaska, could be extinct by 2050 if current trends continue.
Even with normal seasonal changes aside, the overall decline of sea ice in the arctic is so drastic that new maps need to be made, as Care2′s Kevin Mathews pointed out in a recent article about the next edition of the National Geographic Atlas of the World. The new atlas is expected out in September and will include one of the most visible changes in the earth we’ve seen so far. Images from NASA offer an idea of what can be expected.
According to NASA, if current trends continue the Arctic could be totally ice-free in summer before the end of this century. Meanwhile, conservationists continue to fight for greater protections for polar bears and push for tougher regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce carbon levels to curb the consequences of climate change on our environment.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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