Over the past year, some pretty amazing ideas have come forward for polar bear research, a lot of these projects seem almost like science fiction actually.
Polar Bear DNA Prints – World Wildlife Fund were in Norway and then Churchill last bear season taking samples from polar bear paw prints. The snow from these prints will then be melted and DNA extracted back at the lab. While this is a very ‘young’ research tool and likely provides limited results for now, it is pretty intriguing idea to study bears simply through their footprints.
Accelerometer – A bear at the San Diego Zoo has been fitted with an ‘acclerometer’, a small device that monitors movements. Basically, it is a way to study the individual movements of bears as opposed to the general seasonal movements. Researchers will combine video of the bear’s behaviour and accelerometer readings to try and gain some insight into wild bear beahaviour. Another project in its early stages so we’ll see what happens… neat though.
Scent Glands – A recent study suggests that female bears have scent glands in their paws that attract mates in the spring. Males can track females in estrous by following their paw prints in the spring.
Hudson Bay Aerial Study – Another non-invasive aerial study is planned for the western Hudson Bay population in 2016. This should help compare mark-recapture and aerial transect results in this area and provide for a greater understanding of the population trends and numbers. Hopefully, this can result in a reduction in mark-recapture handling in this population as well.
Goose Hunters – A study released late in 2013 found that not just a few bears were foraging in the summer but almost all bears that they studied in western Hudson Bay had eaten geese, sedges, berries, etc. Whether this was always the case or is a result of a changing climate, it tells us that summer foraging is an important supplement to the bears annual diet.
Bears in Space – Researchers from the University of Minnesota and Government of Nunavut looked at the possibility of studying bears from space. By reviewing satellite images from late summer/fall, they identified polar bears as they summered on shore. Results looked pretty positive and this technique will likely be re-visited in the near future.
And finally, this is Nature Conservancy article gives a pretty good overview of the complicated world of polar bears. Its refreshing to see more articles dealing with the ‘gray areas’ of the arctic and bears as opposed to the ‘doomer or denier’ approach… although everyone still insists on calling Grolar Bears ‘Pizzlies’… ugh.