Fitbit for polar bears: monitoring the Arctic’s wildlife

Fitbit for polar bears: monitoring the Arctic’s wildlife Sergey Uryadnikov
23 Feb
2016
Fitbit-style monitoring devices are revealing the importance a good day’s rest plays in the lives of polar bears

Fitbit and other ‘activity trackers’ can be used to calculate the energy you use walking to work, climbing stairs and (quite often) just sitting still. They are the latest generation of wearable tech encouraging us to expend more and consume less energy. By attaching similar devices to polar bears, scientists have observed how they divide their time and energy in the Arctic, an environment where every calorie is crucial.

‘Polar bears are spending as much as 70 per cent of daylight hours resting,’ says Anthony Pagano, research biologist and principal investigator of the study by the US Geological Society. ‘Another 15 per cent is spent walking and the last 15 per cent on all other activities such as hunting, eating, swimming and socialising with other bears.’ The results were collected in Alaska over spring 2014 and 2015 by fitting seven adult polar bears with a small camera and locator device. The footage was used to deduce averages for time spent doing certain activities. 

While 70 per cent may seem like a lot of time to rest during the day, the downtime is crucial for the polar bears. They hunt approximately every ten days, so their energy has to last. ‘They also have unusually high energy demands compared to other mammals,’ says Pagano. ‘This is probably down to a combination of factors. Firstly, they’re big – the biggest terrestrial mammal on Earth – and energy demands increase with body size. Secondly, they have to navigate a varied topography – they swim in cold water, haul themselves up onto the ice and walk long distances to find prey.’

The study highlights the survival issues polar bears face in a changing Arctic landscape. ‘Ideally, polar bears “still hunt” on the ice,’ says Pagano, ‘using as little as energy as possible, they sit on the ice and wait for seals to come up to breathe.’ However, as Arctic ice breaks up sooner, the bears are forced to walk longer distances following its retreat northwards, or to chase less energy-dense foods such as birds and their eggs on land. ‘It is likely that declining ice is causing them to expend more and consume less energy,’ says Pagano. ‘Not meeting their high energy demands could be part of their decline.’

Pagano will resume his study in spring this year when he hopes to also use accelerometer devices to observe the animal’s night-time behaviours.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Geophoto

November is a dark, quiet month, but it also marks…

Energy

Could human waste one day be fuelling our homes and…

Geophoto

Every year, the LPOTY awards celebrate the best in Britain’s…

Climate

At the 23rd Convention of the Parties (COP) climate change…

Oceans

Knowing where past coral reefs existed is a crucial component…

Oceans

Numerous low-lying Pacific islands have disappeared under rising seas

Oceans

In this exclusive film for Geographical, see how an unusually…

Climate

Marco Magrini considers why the recent devastation caused by hurricanes…

Geophoto

Country borders are some of the most controlled environments on…

Wildlife

Nature reserves and protected areas in Germany have lost 76…

Oceans

An investigation into shark fins and ray gills sold in…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Wildlife

The rapid spread of Asian hornets is likely to make…

Energy

Europe provides more than €112billion (£97billion) in subsidies to fossil…

Oceans

A study of various fish populations has found dramatic reductions…

Geophoto

The seasonal changes of September promise much photographic potential for…

Oceans

Shipping traffic can increase lightning strikes, according to a pioneering…

Polar

New documentary travels to remote Antarctica to unpack the complex…

Oceans

The deaths of these majestic creatures had remained an unsolved…

Wildlife

Over a two-year period, a new species of plant or…