polar bear point of view
June 9, 2014

Viewing The World Through The Eyes Of A Polar Bear

Gerard LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The US Geological Survey (USGS) has released a video showing a glimpse into the life of a polar bear. Collar cameras were attached to four female polar bears on the sea ice north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in April of this year. The brief footage provides insight into the daily lives of the polar bear.

“We deployed two video cameras in 2013, but did not get any footage because the batteries weren’t able to handle the Arctic temperatures. We used different cameras this year, and we are thrilled to see that the new cameras worked,” Dr. Todd Atwood, research leader for the USGS Polar Bear Research Program, explained in a statement.

Anthony Pagano, a PhD student from the University of California, was also involved in the study which was undertaken in order to determine what effect sea ice loss from climate change is having on the polar bears of that region. They also wanted a closer look at the behaviors and energetics of these polar bears.

[ Watch the Video: Keeping An Eye On Polar Bears From Their Point Of View ]

Previously, scientists from the USGS have attached radio and satellite devices to track movements and their use of habitat for decades. However, for the first-time, video was captured and the scientists were able to link the location data from the collar to the behavior of the polar bears in real-time.

The cameras were only attached to the animals for 8-10 days, but now scientists are able to understand how the polar bears, eat, hunt, rest, walk and swim, along with how they may be affected by a changing climate. According to Pagano, the information gathered will help scientists observe the nutritional demands as well as their energetic rates.

The research team used female bears as their study because the male’s neck is larger than their head, and the camera would fall off. Normally, scientists are limited to six weeks each spring to observe the region. This is the time when it is light enough to work and just before the ice begins to break apart.

“It's all information that we wouldn't be able to get otherwise,” Todd told Dan Joling of the Associated Press from his office in Anchorage.

The four females used were already being tranquilized for blood samples, so it was an ideal opportunity to use the redesigned cameras. They already had collars equipped with GPS recording and accelerometers, a device to determine whether the bear is resting, walking, hunting or swimming.

The ongoing study of the bears is an attempt to determine how they are using energy in comparison with a changing environment. As the summer approaches, the polar bear will either stay on shore or on the ice. However, the edge of the ice has melted hundreds of miles from shore in recent years, and scientists want to determine how this affects their habits. Because of the distance of the ice from the shallower outer continental shelf where seals and walrus inhabit, scientists want to see if the bears far from shore rest more to conserve their energy because they can no longer hunt.

So far, the team has collected 38 to 40 hours of video. In one portion, a male and female bear are seen scrapping over a seal which may be part of a courting behavior. “The fact that they appear to be playing around with their food, we're not sure what that means,” Atwood told Joling.

It is usually thought that the polar bear will wait beside a breathing hole for a seal to appear, but in the video it shows the female bear chasing a seal through the water. During her meal, she will also drop the seal into the water, possibly trying to thaw it out.

The USGS and the US Fish and Wildlife Polar Bear Recovery Team have plans to draft a Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. This will include a plan to guide activities for polar bear conservation. In 2008, it was determined that the polar bear is a threatened species due to the loss of sea ice habitat.