SCIENCE
02/02/2018 04:23 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2018

Already Threatened Polar Bears Face Food Shortage Crisis Amid Climate Change

We're certainly not making it easier for them.

The situation is becoming more and more grim for the polar bear.

New research published in the journal Science on Thursday found that polar bears have metabolic rates 60 percent higher than scientists previously thought, meaning the animals require more food to survive their harsh Arctic environment than was previously known. 

Polar bears already face challenges due to the effects of climate change on natural habitats, and the new information means it will become even more difficult for them to adapt to receding sea ice.

The polar bear’s diet is high in fat, supplied largely by hunting seals, but with less Arctic ice, scientists worry that the bears will have to walk or swim greater and greater distances for food with each passing year.

The researchers used radio collars to track nine female polar bears near the Beaufort Sea. Using collected blood samples, scientists found that five of the bears lost body mass due to malnutrition. Four of the bears lost 10 percent body weight in just a 10-day period.

Olaf Kruger

In 2017, the world’s oceans reached their hottest temperatures on record. And since 2010, the Earth has experienced the five warmest years ever recorded.

Over 77,000 square miles of winter sea ice have disappeared in the last 40 years, according to The Guardian

“That process takes them [polar bears] further and further away from land ― and there is likely to be a limit about the distance they can tolerate,” Leeds University professor of Earth observation Andrew Shepherd told The Guardian last year.

Josef Friedhuber via Getty Images

Lead author of the new study, research wildlife biologist Anthony Pagano, said the new findings require further study. “The next step is to use this information to really start to quantify how changes in movement patterns might be affecting the energy demands of these bears.”

Unfortunately, if global temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, the impact on the Arctic ecosystem will likely continue to making things worse for polar bears.

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