Study: Polar bears could become extinct faster than previously thought

A polar bear.
(Image credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Researchers have found that polar bears have higher metabolisms than previously thought, and that's a scary discovery — with receding sea ice, it's harder than ever for polar bears to find enough food to survive, and there are fears that they might become extinct sooner rather than later.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average, and sea ice has declined by about 13 percent per decade since 1979. Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and U.C. Santa Cruz studied nine polar bears in Alaska over three Aprils, and found that they need to eat at least one adult or three juvenile ringed seals every 10 days for sustenance. Five of the bears were unable to get the necessary amount of food, and lost as much as 44 pounds over a 10-day period. The scientists realized polar bears have a metabolism that is 50 percent higher than prior estimates, but with climate change affecting their environment, it's becoming harder and harder to find enough seals to eat, and they are having to go farther to find food.

The polar bears have "a feast and famine lifestyle — if they missed out on seals it had a pretty dramatic effect on them," USGS biologist Anthony Pagano told The Guardian. "We were surprised to see such big changes in body masses, at a time when they should be putting on bulk to sustain them during the year. This and other studies suggest that polar bears aren't able to meet their bodily demands like they once were." The study was published in the latest issue of Science.

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