Global warming has had various effects on our planet. From continuous increases in temperature to frequent natural disasters, it is very much here. Another negative effect of the global warming is the melting of the polar ice caps. Yes, we are seeing increasing sea levels, but that is not the only bad thing that comes from the melting of the caps. The animals who live in those regions are the ones who are truly suffering as they are experiencing changes in the way they live on a daily basis. Polar bears are just one type of animal who are suffering from this change. Although there are many ways that their lives have changed, one of the most critical is the length of time they are now having to swim.
Summer is nearly here and the ice in the Arctic is not only melting at a fast rate, but is also moving farther and farther away from the shore. A recent study was published in Ecography stating that polar bears are having to swim for days at a time in order to find a place to rest and food to eat. Polar bears are considered to be ice-obligate apex predators, meaning they hunt seals in a sea ice habitat.
During the spring time feeding is high because seals are more vulnerable which allows bears to store energy. Later in the spring season, when sea ice starts to melt, polar bears move on to land or pack ice for the summer season. But the changes in our environment have caused the Arctic to experience drastic changes faster than anywhere else. Because of it, rather than walk on sea ice to make their journey, polar bears are forced to swim long distances.
Although polar bears are good swimmers, these long distance swims take up a lot of their energy and are quite risky. A team from the University of Alberta, led by Nicholas Pilfold did a study in order to look at the swimming behaviors of the creatures who reside in the Arctic. They took over a hundred polar bears and monitored them by using GPS satellite telemetry to track their seasonal migrations over the course of five years (2007 to 2012). The polar bears included 18 young polar bears and 58 adult females from the Beaufort Sea and 59 adult females from Hudson Bay.
Out of 115 recorded swims, almost half of them had to complete a long distance swim. These types of swims lasted anywhere from 1.3 to 9.3 days and ranged from 32 to 250 miles in distance. In the Beaufort Sea, those polar bears who had no offspring swam longer distances. Young polar bears swam just as much as single adult females, but swam more than those female bears with cubs. In 2004, only 25 percent of adult females had to swim long distance, but as the ice has continued to melt, in 2012 that number increased to a whopping 69 percent. Pilfold shared, "Given the continued trend of sea ice loss, we recognize that an increased frequency in the need to engage in this behavior may have serious implications for populations of polar bears living around the Arctic Basin.”
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