Skooter reporting 05/02/12
A study led by the U.S. Geological Survey indicated that polar bears are capable of swimming long distances, a potential survival skill needed in an Arctic environment where summer sea ice is steadily disappearing.
Published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, the study tracked 52 female polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea off Alaska. Based on the study between 2004 and 2009, that was a period of extreme summer-ice flight, at least a third of those bears were able to swim more than 30 miles in distance.
Of the 50 recorded ultra-marathon swims it averaged 96 miles, and amazingly one bear managed to swim nearly 220 miles, according to the study results. The long-distance swims duration lasted from most of a day to almost 10 days, according to the study.
How did the study team tracked down the bears' movements was by using global positioning system collars. There were no male polar bears involved because their necks are too thick for GPS-equipped collars, so that all the animals in the study were females, Karen Oakley, a supervising biologist at the USGS Alaska Science Center.
In the study there were many of the polar bears had young cubs with them, and it seems that at least some of the cubs which reportedly were not collared might have managed to stick along with their mothers in the water, USGS officials said.
Within a year of collaring, the study team were able to track 10 of the studied bears and found that six still had their cubs, the lead scientist said in a statement. This indicates that cubs are capable of swimming long distances, said Anthony Pagano, a USGS scientist and lead author of the study.
However, the study sample was too small to draw conclusions about the future of the entire polar bear population, which in 2008 the animals were considered as threatened and endangered species because of rapid warming in their Artic environment, Oakley said.