Stable Polar Bear Population Found In Sea Near Alaska

Posted: Nov 15 2018, 10:52pm CST | by , Updated: Nov 15 2018, 11:13pm CST, in Latest Science News


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Stable Polar Bear Population Found in Alaska
Credit: Eric Regehr/University of Washington

Recent ecological observations suggest that polar bears are doing well in Chukchi Sea.

Polar bears are listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2008. The populations of this iconic animal have been declining steadily over the years, but not all polar bears are in the same dire situation. Off the western coast of Alaska, the Chukchi Sea is an important habitat for polar bears. The first formal assessment of these polar bears reveals a healthy and stable population of about 3,000 animals with generally good reproductive rates.

“This work represents a decade of research that gives us a first estimate of the abundance and status of the Chukchi Sea subpopulation," said lead author Eric Regehr, a researcher with the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center. "Despite having about one month less time on preferred sea ice habitats to hunt compared with 25 years ago, we found that the Chukchi Sea subpopulation was doing well from 2008 to 2016.”

There are a total of 19 units or subpopulations of polar bears. Of those, U.S. shares two with neighboring countries. One subpopulation consists of US-Russia polar bears in Chukchi Sea and the other is southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, whose territory overlaps with Canada.

Polar bear populations are showing signs of stress due to loss of their primary habitat or retreating sea ice. But such effects are not yet visible for bears in the remote waters that separate Alaska from Russia.

Researchers gathered the data by tagging roughly 60 polar bears from 2008 to 2016. For this purpose, they flew by helicopter over the area just north of Alaska's Seward Peninsula and looked for tracks on the sea ice. After locating bears, they used a tranquilizer dart to sedate the animal. Then, they collected biological samples and applied individual tags and, in some cases, attach a GPS transmitter. All the data were incorporated into a new model designed to estimate polar bear’s population size.

"Polar bears can travel thousands of miles in a year. But with the GPS tags, we can see when a bear leaves our study area but is still alive, because it's moving. This information is key because there are bears that we see once and never see again, and to get a good population estimate you need to know if these animals died or just moved to a new area.”Regehr said.

Monitoring the abundance and population is necessary for conservation of a species. The recent study has effectively tracked population trends of polar bear population in Akas over time and could help marine mammal’s conservation efforts.

"These findings are good news for now, but it doesn't mean that bears in the Chukchi Sea won't be affected by ice loss eventually," said Regehr. "Polar bears need ice to hunt seals, and the ice is projected to decline until the underlying problem of climate change is addressed."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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