False Alarm: The Drowning Polar Bears Scare

  • Date: 02/05/12

The Times, 18 December 2005: Polar bears drown as ice shelf melts: SCIENTISTS have for the first time found evidence that polar bears are drowning because climate change is melting the Arctic ice shelf. The researchers were startled to find bears having to swim up to 60 miles across open sea to find food. They are being forced into the long voyages because the ice floes from which they feed are melting, becoming smaller and drifting farther apart…..

Reality: Study finds that polar bear swim long distances

Alakan Dispatch, 1 May 2012

Scientists have long known that polar bears can swim marathon distances, but a new study finds their aquatic endurance better than imagined, with some polar bears paddling nearly 100 miles on average without rest, according to the US Geological Survey.

Adults who were collared in the southern Beaufort Sea weren’t the only exceptionally buoyant ones. Cubs accompanying their moms apparently covered long distances, too, though a brief USGS summary of the report doesn’t detail how long those cubs swam.

It was known that polar bears can swim 30 miles or more, but the 2004 to 2009 study by USGS biologists provides a fuller picture after documenting 50 polar bear swims. The swimming record belongs to a polar bear that swam 426 miles over the course of nine days. That mom’s yearling cub didn’t make it.

The findings could stoke the debate over the fate of the polar bear, a poster animal for global warming that is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The health of the animal, whose population in the southern Beaufort is considered stable, is closely watched. If its numbers fall dramatically, that may disrupt plans by oil companies to drill Alaska’s Arctic seabed.

The new findings suggest the polar bear might be less likely to drown than the media has portrayed, said a press release from the USGS, even as their sea-ice hunting grounds vanish for longer periods each summer and fall.

Then again, the statement added, scientists fear the animals are burning precious calories in their long-distance feats, which may not be good for the animal.

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