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Scientists have discovered a hidden population of polar bears in Greenland. For Hundreds of years, these polar bears have survived in the southeast corner of Greenland, an unlikely climate. These bears are commonly based in much colder and tougher climates but, this recent finding has revealed it to not be the case for this group.
The research team responsible for the discovery used seven years of surveyed data in the region and 30 years of historical data on the territory. A number of things distinguish these polar bears from their distant relatives. This pack of bears utilizes sea ice for hunting by riding the ice after it breaks from a Greenland glacier. After a hunt, the bears remain atop the floating ice as it drifts along fjords — a long, deep, narrow body of water that reaches far inland.
Though fjords are not typical places of habitat for the bears, this adoption allows them to remain on land and travel up the mountains until it is time to hunt, thus repeating the glacier process. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are between 22,000 and 31,000 polar bears remaining in the world.
The area is very remote with taxing, time-consuming, and challenging conditions to establish consistent fieldwork. The southeast region of Greenland is often overlooked for studies due to its desolate, rough, and dangerous mountainous terrain. Its harsh weather produces heavy snowfall and sturdy rain creating deplorable environments.
These weather conditions have contributed to the bears’ isolation. Mountains, the Greenland Ice Sheet, and the Denmark Straight, all surround the area. Though the polar bears hunt on glacier ice, the ice caps are only in the region from February and May.
Climate change has decreased sea ice levels. Studies show that bears in different territories can adapt to the conditions in Greenland’s southeast region. Though this seems promising, research suggests that this is only a possibility. This is due to the fact that very few locations provide substantial amounts of glacial ice that would be available for arctic bears.
Populations of arctic bears won’t have the chance to adapt to life in glacial ice conditions as well as the southeast Greenland bears have. There are only a few hundred bears who struggle to find mates in the hellacious terrain they inhabit. Further research will prove just how sustainable this environment is and what the future holds for these polar bears.
Written by Mikal Eggleston
Edited by Sheena Robertson
WSJ: Polar bears in Greenland are surprising researchers by Eric Niiler
SCIENCE: A new Polar Bear population by; Elizabeth Peacock
Featured image courtesy of Richard Roche’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Christopher Michel’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License