Climate change diet: Arctic sea ice thins, so do polar bears

In this April 15, 2015 photo provided by the United States Geological Survey, a polar bear wearing a GPS video-camera collar lies on a chunk of sea ice in the Beaufort Sea. (AP)
Updated 02 February 2018
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Climate change diet: Arctic sea ice thins, so do polar bears

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: Some polar bears in the Arctic are shedding pounds during the time they should be beefing up, a new study shows. It’s the climate change diet and scientists say it’s not good.
They blame global warming for the dwindling ice cover on the Arctic Ocean that bears need for hunting seals each spring.
For their research, the scientists spied on the polar bears by equipping nine female white giants with tracking collars that had video cameras and the bear equivalent of a Fitbit during three recent springs. The bears also had their blood monitored and were weighed.
What the scientists found is that five of the bears lost weight and four of them lost 2.9 to 5.5 pounds (1.3 to 2.5 kilograms) per day. The average polar bear studied weighed about 386 pounds (175 kilograms). One bear lost 51 pounds (23 kilograms) in just nine days.
“You’re talking a pretty amazing amount of mass to lose,” said US Geological Survey wildlife biologist Anthony Pagano, lead author of a new study in Thursday’s journal Science .
Researchers studied the bears for 10 days in April, when they are supposed to begin putting on weight so they can later have cubs, feed the cubs and survive through the harsh winter. But because the ice is shrinking, the bears are having a harder time catching seal pups even during prime hunting time, Pagano said. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service lists polar bears as a threatened species.
Polar bears hunt from the ice. They often wait for seals to pop out of holes to get air and at other times they swim after seals. If there is less sea ice and it is broken apart, bears have to travel more — often swimming — and that has serious consequences, such as more energy use, hypothermia and risk of death, said University of Alberta biology professor Andrew Derocher, who wasn’t part of the study.
The study found that on the ice, the polar bears burn up 60 percent more energy than previously thought, based on these first real-life measurements done on the ice. A few of the bears traveled more than 155 miles (250 kilometers) in about 10 days off the northern coast of Alaska in the Beaufort Sea, Pagano said. The average bear female burned about 13,200 calories a day — six times more than an active human female.
“Just to break even they have to capture at least one seal every five to 10 days — and that’s just to break even,” said study co-author George Durner, a USGS research zoologist. “And if they don’t do that they’re going to lose weight.”
The ice cover in the Arctic grows in the winter and melts in the summer. Because of climate change, the ice is shrinking and thinning more and earlier, he said.
As the ice dwindles, “we are essentially pulling the rug out from underneath the polar bears,” Durner said.
The bear videos showed researchers all sorts of usually private aspects of polar bear life, including courtship and hunting. They recorded dramatic, and at times, bloody seal hunts from the bear’s perspective.
“You’re seeing everything it is seeing,” Durner said.
Researchers only tracked female bears because males can’t keep collars on — their heads are too small and their necks too big — Pagano said.
Blaine Griffen, a Brigham Young University biology professor who wasn’t part of the study, praised the USGS work, noting that past studies have looked at resting polar bears and polar bears on treadmills in the lab.
In the long run, climate change “will result in smaller bears that produce fewer cubs and that have lower survival rates,” Griffen said in an email.
All over the Arctic, scientists have seen evidence of weakened polar bears, Pagano said. Last month, a video of a starving polar bear went viral, but it is from a different part of the Arctic and unlikely to be related to global warming, Durner said.
“If it’s bad for polar bears, it might be affecting us in other ways — us being humans,” Durner said. “It’s part of a larger picture.”


Philippines takes non-confrontational stand versus China in sea feud

Updated 18 min 23 sec ago
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Philippines takes non-confrontational stand versus China in sea feud

  • The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs reiterated Monday the government is committed to protecting “every single inch” of its territory and areas where it has sovereign rights
  • The long-range bombers involved in the recently reported exercise would have all of Southeast Asia in range

MANILA: The Philippine government is taking “appropriate diplomatic action” to protect its claims in the South China Sea but did not elaborate or name China in a non-confrontational policy to avoid problems.
China reportedly landed long-range bombers on one of its occupied islands for the first time in its latest military action in the disputed seas, setting off international concern. A Pentagon spokesman said late last week China’s “militarization” of disputed areas destabilizes the region.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs reiterated Monday the government is committed to protecting “every single inch” of its territory and areas where it has sovereign rights. But it added that its responses to certain developments might not be publicized.
“While appropriate language, whether expressions of condemnation or concern, over certain developments are clearly conveyed through diplomatic channels, it is not our policy to publicize every action taken by the Philippine government whenever there are reported developments taking place,” the department said.
“Moving forward, we are taking a different approach to avoid any drawbacks and challenges,” the statement added.
After rising to power nearly two years ago, President Rodrigo Duterte took steps to thaw the Philippines’ frosty ties with China over the sea disputes in an effort to secure Chinese infrastructure funds and investment while often criticizing security policies of the United States, his country’s treaty ally.
Duterte refused to immediately demand Chinese compliance to a landmark 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s claims to virtually all of the South China Sea on historical grounds and upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights to vast stretches of waters.
The Duterte administration has also muted criticisms of China’s increasingly assertive actions in the disputed territories, including the installation of missile defense systems on seven islands it built on disputed reefs close to other areas occupied by rival claimants, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia.
The long-range bombers involved in the recently reported exercise would have all of Southeast Asia in range. They reportedly landed on Woody Island, China’s largest base in the Paracel Islands that are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said the Philippines had gained much under Duterte and intended to achieve more.
Critics and nationalists have accused Duterte of squandering the Philippines’ arbitration victory and helping embolden China.
Renato Reyes of the left-wing group Bayan called the Duterte administration’s approach to the territorial disputes “defeatist.
“Asserting our sovereign rights does not mean we intend to go to war with China and end up losing,” Reyes said. “It simply means we are telling China and the entire world that we have sovereign rights in those waters under international law. It means we have not surrendered those rights.”