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Polar bears have found a way to hunt even when sea ice is scarce

One of the edition of

“Polar bears normally need sea ice to hunt seals, but an isolated group, living on a steep coast in southeast Greenland, have found a way to sustain themselves as the sea ice increasingly melts. earlier in the year”, reveals the NPR. The site of the American public radio thus echoes of a study published June 16 in the magazine Science which devotes the cover of its edition dated the following day.

One of the edition of “Science” dated June 17, 2022

The information, taken up by many media, raises new hopes because it highlights the adaptability of these animals. Good news when you know that“with the decrease in sea ice in the region, a consequence of rising temperatures, [ils] could be close to extinction by the end of the century”, remember Nature.

To track the seals, the isolated group of polar bears in Greenland learned to move on the floating platforms formed by the pieces of ice from the glaciers, fallen and partially melted in the fjords. This hunting technique using these freshwater ice platforms “could allow them to gain time because their survival no longer depends solely on the presence of sea ice, which continues to recede”, takes over in the NPR Todd Atwooda specialist in these animals at the US Geological Survey Alaska Science Center, who did not participate in the work.

Save time for the future

At New Scientist, Kristin Laidrea researcher at the University of Washington, Seattle, and first author of the study, confirms:

“They survive in fjords without sea ice for more than eight months a year because they have access to glacier ice on which they can hunt.”

But it’s just to save time. Including long term. “The few areas where polar bears have access to freshwater ice, such as in southeast Greenland, will not serve as a refuge for them indefinitely from global warming,” insist in the NPR Ian Stirling, a biologist at the University of Alberta, who was not involved in the study. Indeed, the glaciers will continue to melt and retreat towards the land rather than extending into the water.

On his side, Andrew Derocheralso a researcher at the University of Alberta and independent of this work, interviewed by the New Scientist, note that “the point of vulnerability for this group of bears will rather be the negative impact of global warming on the population of ringed seals in the region”. He concludes :

“If ringed seals no longer have a breeding territory, the bears’ main source of sustenance could disappear.”

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