'Polar bears lack skills to find food as they adapt to climate change'

Foraging peril of polar bears as experts fear they could lack skills to find new food as they adapt to climate change

  • Researchers studied polar bears in Canadian Arctic tracking them over 11 days
  • Bears usually hunt seals from floating ice but climate change means ice melted
  • Bears have resorted to eating birds eggs on land but have yet to hone the skill 

Polar bears may lack the skills to forage for new food like bird eggs as they try to adapt to climate change, a study found.

The predators normally hunt seals from floating ice in the sea, but global warming has caused these ‘platforms’ to melt, leading some bears to top up their diet by stealing sea bird eggs on land.

However, researchers found they cannot do this well yet. They used drones to track bears over 11 days on Mitivik Island in the Canadian Arctic.

Researchers who studied polar bears in the Canadian Arctic have found that the polar bears may lack the skills to forage for new food like bird eggs as they try to adapt to climate change

The scientists found bears often failed to notice when an Arctic sea duck had flown its nest, leaving eggs they could eat.

The research team, led by Windsor University in Canada, said: ‘Given that polar bears have evolved to hunt seals on ice, they may not be efficient predators of sea bird eggs.’

They said the bears often walked by nests, showing their hunting strategy left a lot to be desired.

However, they stressed the animals may become more adept at foraging in time.

The polar bears, observed in June, visited fewer nests as the breeding season progressed and eggs become more scarce.

But they became more likely to try their luck at empty nests, suggesting the giant predators failed to realise by sight or smell when a nest contained eggs.

Global warming caused ice to melt, leading bears to top up diet by stealing bird eggs on land

Polar bears are used to hunting seals and marine mammals, which are few and far between, so may struggle with tactics for finding food when there is a lot of it around.

The study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, counted all the nests belonging to sea ducks called common eiders which polar bears visited, including ones they ignored and those they ate eggs from.

During the height of the sea duck breeding season on Mitivik Island, between June and August, polar bears should veer more between ground nests, changing direction frequently as they find new clutches of eggs to eat.

But this did not happen, and the carnivores often walked by nests and ignored them, showing their hunting strategy left a lot to be desired.

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