March 20, 2013
For polar bears that pad and paddle around Hudson Bay, the trend toward an earlier melt and later freeze of Arctic sea ice is altering the timing of their seasonal migration in ways that leave the animals less time to feed.
Ice floes on the open water serve as hunting platforms for the bears, whose wintry diet of seals, snagged as they come up for air through breaks in the ice, builds the fat reserves polar bears need to survive on land during the sea-ice melt season.
The migration changes likely bode ill for the ability of the population to reproduce and to survive over the long term as global warming continues to build, say researchers who conducted a study published this week on the impact of climate on the area's polar bear migration patterns. The study appeared in Tuesday’s issue of the Journal of Animal Ecology.
Moreover, because the bears appear to have a strong sense of home turf, the researchers say the animals are likely getting off the melting ice earlier in order to return to familiar turf. If they stay on the moving ice to feed longer, they risk disembarking where they will have to spend more time and energy either returning to their usual range or exploring the new location for the best places to hunker down for the melt season.