Nav: Home

How polar bears find their prey

April 12, 2017

EDMONTON (EMBARGOED UNTIL WEDNESDAY, ARPIL 12 AT 4 A.M. MST)--Researchers at the University of Alberta have demystified the way that polar bears search for their typical prey of ringed seals. The answer, it turns out, is simple: they follow their nose using the power of wind.

Using satellite telemetry data collected from 123 adult polar bears in Canada's Hudson Bay over 11 years, the researchers merged the movements of polar bears with wind patterns to explore how they looked for seals.

They hypothesized that when a bear smells prey, it moves up-wind to find it. But what is a bear to do before it smells anything at all?

"Predators search for prey using odours in the air, and their success depends on how they move relative to the wind," explained Ron Togunov, University of Alberta alumnus and lead author on the study. "Travelling crosswind gives the bears a steady supply of new air streams and maximizes the area they can sense through smell."

While this phenomenon had been suspected in many animals, it had not been quantified in mammals until now.

The best conditions for olfactory hunting, explained UAlberta professor Andrew Derocher, co-author and renowned polar bear expert, takes place at night during the winter.

"Crosswind search was most frequent when winds were slow, when is is easier to localize the source of a certain smell, and at night when bears are relatively active and when vision is less effective, so bears rely more heavily on their sense of smell."

The findings also raise questions about the implications of climate change.

"Wind speeds in the Arctic are projected to increase, potentially making olfaction more difficult," explained Togunov. "It is important to understand how polar bear hunting success will be affected by these changing conditions."
-end-
The study, "Windscapes and olfactory foraging in a large carnivore," was published in Scientific Reports in April 2017.

University of Alberta

Related Polar Bears Articles:

Polar bears' declining mercury levels likely due to climate-related shifts
To understand how human activities are affecting the planet, scientists often study the health of animals in the wild.
How polar bears find their prey
Researchers at the University of Alberta have demystified the way that polar bears search for their typical prey of ringed seals.
How to conserve polar bears -- and maintain subsistence harvest -- under climate change
A properly-managed subsistence harvest of polar bears can continue under climate change, according to analysis that combines sea-ice forecasts with a polar bear population model.
How do polar bears respond to climate change, subsistence hunting?
A new, two-part project led by the UW's Kristin Laidre aims to explore the interacting effects of climate change and subsistence hunting on polar bears, while also illuminating the cultural value of the species to indigenous peoples and the role they play in conservation.
The National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) launches Polar Data Journal
The National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR), which serves as Japan's key institution for scientific research and observation in Polar Regions, launched Polar Data Journal, a new data journal, this January.
Queen's researchers receive funding to track impact of climate change on polar bears
Queen's University researchers Stephen C. Lougheed, Peter Van Coeverden de Groot and Graham Whitelaw have been awarded $9.5 million in total partner cash and in-kind contributions -- including $2.4 million from Genome Canada's Large-Scale Applied Research Project competition -- to monitor impacts of environmental change on polar bears.
Availability of human food shortens and disrupts bears' hibernation
With winter approaching, bears all over the world are getting ready to hibernate.
All polar bears across the Arctic face shorter sea ice season
A new University of Washington study finds a trend toward earlier Arctic sea ice melt in the spring and later ice growth in the fall across all 19 polar bear populations, which can negatively impact the feeding and breeding capabilities of the bears.
Human 'super predator' more terrifying than bears, wolves and dogs
Bears, wolves and other large carnivores are frightening beasts but the fear they inspire in their prey pales in comparison to that caused by the human 'super predator.' A new study by Western University demonstrates that smaller carnivores, like European badgers, that may be prey to large carnivores, actually perceive humans as far more frightening.
Migratory bears down in the dumps
University of Utah biologists working in Turkey discovered two surprising facts about a group of 16 brown bears: First, six of the bears seasonally migrated between feeding and breeding sites, the first known brown bears to do so.

Related Polar Bears Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...