Tracking polar bears’ movements and behavioral patterns in the wild is key to understanding the effects of climate change on these amazing creatures. Yet observing polar bears as they move across the Arctic is virtually impossible for scientists.
But thanks to some high-tech gadgetry, researchers at Polar Bears International and elsewhere will soon have access to information critical to their efforts to save these beautiful beasts.
Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey have developed a special collar that can be used to track polar bears and record data about their specific movements. The collars are fitted with an accelerometer that detects even subtle motions and directional changes. It’s the same device in most smart phones that recognizes and adjusts to the user’s movements. And it could change the game for polar bear researchers.
For years, scientists like Dr. Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for Polar Bears International and recipient of the 2012 Indianapolis Prize, have used radio collars to gather information about polar bears. Through the groundbreaking studies of Amstrup and his team, polar bears are now recognized as a threatened species because of global warming.
With this latest device, which is a project of the USGS’ Changing Arctic Ecosystems research, scientists will have the ability to capture information about a bear’s specific daily activities — from sleeping to swimming to running to eating.
USGS scientists are currently working with the Oregon Zoo to perfect the device. There, Tasul, the zoo’s polar bear, wears the collar while keepers record her movements. That allows scientists to compare the data recorded by the collar to the motions of the bear and calibrate the device. Watch this amazing video to see the device in action.
Photos by Kerrie Best and Patrick Davis.