Polar bears are doing some unusual things to stay alive -- and it may not be enough, new research suggests.
At first, it seemed like good news: polar bears were going inland to find food like berries and bird’s eggs to supplement their diet more and more often, perhaps presenting an alternative for food as sea ice melts. But there’s evidence that this is simply a desperate attempt at survival as sea ice shrinks, and it won’t keep them from dying off.
Polar bears have long been known to eat this type of food, and there’s evidence they’re doing it now more than ever. But while these efforts might help them deal somewhat with the sea ice loss, researchers behind two new papers say that this may not be enough, according to a statement from Semeniuk Lab.
In one study, scientists worked with Inuits to study who polar bears interacted with birds on Baffin Island. They found that the birds were nesting in different locations to avoid the polar bears, who were eating their eggs. And even with the increased egg diet, it’s not enough calories for keep polar bears from shedding weight. Eggs just don’t have the same caloric punch as seals.
“Historically, polar bears would use ice as a platform to hunt seal pups during the spring, but now that sea ice break-up is occurring so much earlier, they are forced ashore onto areas where seabirds are nesting” says Dey, a postdoctoral researcher at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, and lead author of the study. “As a result, polar bears are eating thousands of seabird nests each year, and the number is increasing as climate warming progresses.”