When warmer winters were causing Polar Bears to have limited access to food supplies, researchers surmised that their metabolic rate would slow to mirror their winter hibernation patterns.
As such, a team of scientists decided to test this theory by embarking on a dangerous trial where they attached satellite collars and logging devices to a group of bears and followed their every move, over the warmer months.
Polar bears, who survive mainly on a diet of seals and other fish – that they hunt on ice, have seen a significant decrease in the food source due to warmer temperatures and severe melting in summer.
The ‘walking hibernation’ that scientists assumed would follow this decline, was thought to be able to withhold the effects of climate change on the species.
However, as the study was finalised, researches began to realise that these assumptions were nothing like what was actually going on.
The study of more than two dozen bears in the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska, showed that the bears didn’t slow down in the summer seasons, or enter a hibernating state – they starved.
“Their metabolism is very much like a typical food limited mammal rather than a hibernating bear,” said Author of the paper, John Whiteman from the University of Wyoming.
“If you or I were to be food-limited for weeks on end we would look like the bears’ data.”
This serious result is pointing to a harrowing future for the polar bear population if sea ice loss continues the way it is projected to.
As with any animal, or human, there is always a limit as to how long they can go without food.
The paper, published in the journal, Science, shows a grim future for this species should the ice continue to melt faster than their bodies can adapt.