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

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.”


China bans wild animal trade until viral outbreak coronavirus

Updated 26 January 2020

China bans wild animal trade until viral outbreak coronavirus

  • Raising transporting or selling all wild animal species is forbidden until the epidemic is over
  • The virus has caused 56 confirmed deaths and nearly 2,000 total infections

BEIJING: China on Sunday ordered a temporary ban on the trade in wild animals as the country struggles to contain a deadly virus believed to have been spawned in a market that sold wild animals as food.
Raising, transporting or selling all wild animal species is forbidden “from the date of the announcement until the national epidemic situation is over,” said a government directive.
The ban was issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, the State Administration for Market Regulation, and the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.
The lethal virus, which has caused 56 confirmed deaths and nearly 2,000 total infections in China, and spread to about a dozen countries, is believed to have originated in a market in the central city of Wuhan, where a range of wildlife was reportedly sold.
Conservationists have long accused China of tolerating a shadowy trade in exotic animals for food or as ingredients in traditional medicines, including highly endangered species such as the pangolin or tiger.
Health experts say the trade poses a significant and growing public health risk as potentially dangerous animal-borne pathogens that people would normal not be exposed to make the jump to humans.
The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus that killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in 2002-03 also has been traced to wild animals, with scientists saying it likely originated in bats, later reaching humans via civets.
Civets, a cat-like creature, were among dozens of species listed on an exhaustive price list for one of the animal-trading businesses at the Wuhan market that emerged online last week.
Other items included various rats, snakes, giant salamanders and even live wolf pups.
Sunday’s announcement said all businesses, markets, food and beverage outlets and e-commerce platforms are “strictly prohibited from trading in wild animals in any form.”
It added that “consumers must fully understand the health risks of eating wild animals, avoid wild game, and eat healthy.”
The so-called bushmeat trade, along with broader human encroachment on wild habitats, is bringing humans into ever-closer contact with animal viruses that can spread rapidly in today’s connected world, scientists say.
A study by the Global Virome Project, a worldwide effort to increase preparedness for pandemics, estimated that there are nearly 1.7 million undiscovered viruses in the animal kingdom, nearly half of which could be harmful to humans.
Peter Daszak, a virology expert with the project, told AFP its research also indicated that we can expect around five new animal-borne pathogens to infect humanity each year.
China has launched previous crackdowns on the wildlife trade, including after SARS, but conservationists say the trade typically resumes over time.