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Study show drop in Beaufort Sea polar bear numbers

A polar bear in the Arctic. PHOTO COURTESY USGS/SUSANNE MILLER.

A polar bear in the Arctic. PHOTO COURTESY USGS/SUSANNE MILLER.

Is dwindling sea ice a factor?

Staff report

FRISCO — Polar bear populations in the southern Beaufort Sea  dropped 40 percent between 2000 and 2010, biologists say in a new study. The research suggests that survival of adult bears and cubs was especially low from 2004 to 2006, when most of the decline occurred.

“Of the 80 cubs observed in Alaska from 2004 to 2007, only 2 are known to have survived,” said Jeff Bromaghin, a U.S. Geological Survey research statistician and lead author of the study. Continue reading

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Arctic: Satellite images help track polar bears

Data will help assess global warming impacts to Arctic wildlife

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Polar bears near a U.S. Navy submarine.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The latest generation of high-resolution satellite images may help scientists gain a better understanding of Arctic polar bear populations. Dwindling Arctic sea ice is seen a huge threat to the predators, but difficult field conditions make it challenging to get a clear picture of polar bear population dynamics.

Satellite images have also been used recently to track emperor penguins in Antarctica, and researchers are starting to rely on satellite images more and more. In a new study, U.S. Geological Survey biologists matched satellite surveys with ground-truthed counts. Continue reading

Can polar bears adapt to global warming?

A polar bear roams a coastal strand. PHOTO BY SUSANNE MILLER, USFWS.

A polar bear roams a coastal strand. Photo courtesy Susanne Miller, USFWS.

Studies show changing foraging behavior

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A shared genetic heritage with brown bears may enable some polar bears to adapt as their icy Arctic hunting grounds shrink in the face of global warming.

As Arctic sea ice dwindles, polar bears have a limited amount of time to hunt their historically preferred prey — ringed seal pups — and must spend more time on land.

But polar bears in the western Hudson Bay region are using flexible foraging strategies while on land, such as prey-switching and eating a mixed diet of plants and animals, as they survive in their rapidly changing environment.

“There is little doubt that polar bears are very susceptible as global climate change continues to drastically alter the landscape of the northern polar regions,” said Robert Rockwell, a research associate  at the American Museum of Natural History’s department of ornithology. “But we’re finding that they might be more resilient than is commonly thought.” Continue reading

Climate: Study finds that dwindling sea ice exposes polar bears to more toxic pollution

A polar bear in the Arctic. PHOTO COURTESY USGS/SUSANNE MILLER.

A polar bear in the Arctic. PHOTO COURTESY USGS/SUSANNE MILLER.

Changing sea ice means shifting diet for top Arctic predators

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The decline of Arctic sea ice is a huge threat to animals in the region, including polar bears and seals, and researchers are trying to learn how those changes will play out in the long run.

Even along the east coast of Greenland, where the sea ice may persist after it has vanished from other areas, the annual 1 percent decline in ice is affecting polar bears, according to an international team of researchers who studied polar bear diets.

After analyzing fatty tissues from 310 polar bears hunted by Greenland natives between 1984 and 2011, the scientists were able to detect subtle shifts in in their diet. Instead of relying primarily on ringed seals, residents of the high Arctic, the bears are increasingly eating subarctic harp and hooded seals. Continue reading

Wildlife advocates want more polar bear protections

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A United States Fish & Wildlife Service polar bear biologist labels blood samples taken from a bear being examined.
Photo Credit: Karen Rode/USFWS.

New report says threats have increased since bears were listed in 2008

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — While nobody thinks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can slow or stop global warming, wildlife conservation advocates say the agency must do more to try and save polar bears from extinction.

The great Arctic predators have become a poster child for the impacts of global warming, but five years after they were put on the Endangered Species List, the USFWS has not developed a recovery plan.

According to the Center for Biologicial Diversity, the federal agency also should be considering new scientific evidence that threats to polar bears have increased, warranting a change from “threatened” to “endangered” status. Continue reading

Study: Declining sea ice not good for polar bears

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A detailed new study shows how declining sea ice affects polar bear migration. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Research may help explain declines in cub production and body condition

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A 10-year study of polar bears around western Hudson Bay offers new clues to how the predators will cope with global warming.

The research, published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Animal Ecology, focused on how sea ice conditions drive polar bears’ annual migration on and off the ice.

Polar bears have adapted to the annual loss of sea ice by migrating onto land each summer. While there, they cannot hunt seals and must rely on fat reserves to see them through until the ice returns.

“The data suggest that in recent years, polar bears are arriving on shore earlier in the summer and leaving later in the autumn,” said Dr. Seth Cherry, of the University of Alberta. “These are precisely the kind of changes one would expect to see as a result of a warming climate and may help explain some other studies that are showing declines in body condition and cub production.” Continue reading

Federal appeals court upholds polar bear protection

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Polar bears are threatened by global warming and qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Photo courtesy Susanne Miller/USFWS.

Court rejects challenge by Alaska and trophy hunters

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A federal appeals court has rebuffed Alaska’s efforts to weaken polar bear protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Explaining that global warming has already caused reductions in survival and recruitment rates in some regions, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service satisfied its duties under the law and adequately supported it decision to protect polar bears from extinction. Read the decision here.

The agency said the record makes it clear that federal biologists were aware of Alaska’s concerns and addressed them during the listing process. “We find … that under any reasonable reading of the Act, FWS committed no error in its response to the concerns raised by the State of Alaska,” the appeals court wrote in the March 1 ruling. Continue reading

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