June 25, 2022

Image credit: BBC

Some Greenland polar bears adapt to hunt without sea ice

Polar bears have long been associated with the negative effects of global warming on the natural world.

Because polar bears rely on Arctic sea ice to hunt seals, the species is in danger of extinction.

Scientists say several hundred ice bears in southeast Greenland have now evolved to hunt using freshwater platforms, which is unusually good news for the ice bears.

The animals were discovered to be eating ice that had broken off glaciers.

Because they have access to glacier freshwater ice, they survive in fjords that are sea ice-free for more than eight months of the year, said Kristin Laidre, lead author of the study at the University of Washington.

The findings, from a University of Washington study group, show that patches of the species may be able to survive despite rising temperatures.

Dr Laidre added, “One of the huge unknowns is where polar bears will be able to cling on in the Arctic.” “In this setting, I believe bears can inform us a lot about where such locations are.”

Over two years, the researchers interviewed Inuit hunters and gained access to their ecological knowledge.

After travelling to the secluded region in helicopters, they tagged the bears with satellite tracking devices and gathered DNA samples.

According to Dr Beth Shapiro, a geneticist and co-author of the paper, the researchers uncovered “the most genetically isolated group of polar bears anywhere on the planet.”

According to Dr Shapiro, these bears “are not thriving” because they reproduce slowly and are smaller.

It’s difficult to tell whether this sub-population is thriving because of genetic adaptations or because of “a separate response to a completely different climate and ecology,” she continued.

According to estimations, there are roughly 26,000 polar bears left.

“Polar bears are in danger,” Dr Shapiro warned. “If global warming continues at its current rate, polar bears are plainly on the edge of extinction.” If we understand more about this amazing species, we will be better prepared to help it survive the next 50 to 100 years.

The findings were published in Science, a scholarly magazine.