A new study, published February 2 in Science, reveals the physiological mechanisms behind observed declines in polar bear populations, as said by Anthony Pagano, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Santa Cruz and wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. This study found that polar bears in the wild have higher metabolic rates than previously thought, and as climate change alters their environment, a growing number of bears are unable to catch enough prey to meet their energy needs.

According to Pagano, "This study identifies the mechanisms that are driving those declines by looking at the actual energy needs of polar bears and how often they're able to catch seals." The researchers monitored the behavior, hunting success, and metabolic rates of polar bears, as well as having the researchers record videos, locations, and activity levels over a period of eight to 11 days, with the help of high-tech collars on the bears. “Learning about how other animals live through conducted studies is crucial to our survival, as well,” says HF sophomore Joe Interrante.

With these studies, the researchers concluded that the polar bears aren't catching enough fat-rich marine mammal prey to meet their energy demands. Climate change is having grave effects on the Arctic sea ice, forcing polar bears to move greater distances and making it harder for them to catch prey. Colleen Dwyer, a junior at HF, expressed her gratitude for these studies, saying, “I think it’s great that researchers are making these leaps because these studies don’t only affect the polar bears, but these studies can also help us and our environment.”

Julia DeVita