Study: Polar Bears Cannot Survive For Long Periods of Time Without Food

posted: 07/17/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Polar bear on ice close to golden glittering water
Josef Friedhuber/iStock

The scientific community had hoped that polar bears have one last trick up their sleeve in the fight against climate change: "walking hibernation". A new study from the University of Wyoming, however, shows little evidence that the ersatz hibernation even exists.

Described by researchers as a "state of lowered activity and reduced metabolic rate similar to winter hibernation", the walking hibernation was said to help polar bears combat summertime food deprivation caused by rampant ice loss. Instead, polar bear vital signs were on par with those of other animals subjected to extended periods of fasting.

"We found that polar bears appear unable to meaningfully prolong their reliance on stored energy, confirming their vulnerability to lost hunting opportunities on the sea ice -- even as they surprised us by also exhibiting an unusual ability to minimize heat loss while swimming in Arctic waters," says study lead author John Whiteman, a University of Wyoming doctoral student.

The groundbreaking study involved the implantation of temperature loggers in more than 20 polar bears. Several government agencies lent their support to the research effort, which was carried out between 2008 and 2010.

"Many colleagues -- even some on our research team -- doubted whether the study was possible, until we actually did it," explains UW professor Merav Ben-David. "This project was logistically so intense that it may never be replicated."

The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Polar bears have been heavily impacted by habitat loss in recent years: the ice on which the bears hunt seals has begun to melt earlier in the summer, resulting in extended periods of fasting and starvation. Malnourishment has led to lower reproductive rates and a host of other problems, according to a study published in the academic journal Integrative & Comparative Biology.

Click here for more information from the University of Wyoming

Learn more about polar bears:

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Polar Bears in Decline

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