From: Kevin Mathews, Care2, More from this Affiliate
Published September 9, 2015 08:36 AM

Is the fate of the polar bear really doomed?

With global warming and melting ice, it isn’t easy being a polar bear anymore. Some studies have predicted that polar bears could very well be extinct by the end of the century. The good news is not all researchers think the bears are absolutely doomed. Scientists at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) have published a new paper indicating that things might not be as bleak for polar bears as their peers expect.

To understand the reason for the researchers’ cautious optimism, we must first understand the factors that are threatening the polar bear’s existence. Polar bears consume a diet of mainly young seals. In order to hunt these seals, polar bears need to rest atop sea ice – the same ice that is increasingly melting for most of the year thanks to climate change. In another 50 years, experts expect that the Arctic will be too warm for sea ice to form for half of the year, leaving polar bears without a reliable food source and in serious danger of starvation.

As it turns out, alternative food sources for the polar bears aren’t completely out of the question. For as long as biologists have tracked the animals, they’ve recorded instances of polar bears eating animals found on land like caribou and snow geese – as well as the snow geese’s eggs. “Polar bears are opportunists,” stated Robert Rockwell, a researcher with AMNH.

Can polar bears actually survive off these alternative food sources for long periods of time? To figure this out, researchers calculated the nutrients that a caribou and snow geese diet would provide. They found that even adult male polar bears would be able to obtain more calories than they would burn in hunting these meals. Moreover, the food would provide the sustenance necessary to avoid starvation during the summer months.

Unfortunately, not all polar bears have demonstrated a tendency to seek prey on land. That said, the researchers expect that necessity would push more polar bears to hunt on land to avoid starvation. They also expect that the bears could learn from their fellow bears how to hunt on land until the practice becomes second nature.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Care2.

Polar bear image via Shutterstock.

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