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Polar bear's long swim illustrates ice melt

Searching for food, one female bear was tracked as she swam for 9 days across the Beaufort Sea before reaching an ice floe. Litigation continues over protection of bear habitat.

January 29, 2011|By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

"What we have for this bear is actually a very beautiful profile of data that is very rare for any sort of wildlife, including polar bears," Durner said. "And it allowed us to tell a story about this animal, and what she did, and what sort of conditions she may have experienced."

She appears to have swum in an arc north and then northeast from the Beaufort Sea coast for nine days before reaching an ice floe. "She was able to get on the surface of the sea ice for a couple of days and then she went swimming again for another day. So really, she swam for 10 days, but nine days of it was sequentially," Durner said.

The problem, he said, was that by then she was in waters 9,800 feet deep. "These waters, even though they're ice-covered, the deep waters of the polar basin are relatively unproductive biologically when you compare them to the continental shelf, and it's believed that seals do not use them as much as the waters of the continental shelf, which are by comparison maybe 300 feet deep."

The bear traveled across the far-northern ice and then made a beeline for the Alaska coast, where she was recaptured and released, 107 pounds lighter than when she began.

kim.murphy@latimes.com

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