Swedish Radio reports that a previously unknown behaviour of polar bears has been observed. A cub can travel on its mother’s back while she swims in search of food. “It could be a way for polar bears to cope better than we thought” said Tom Arnbom of WWF. “I think it’s positive” he says. “It proves that the polar bears can adapt if climate changes in the Arctic”
image: Isbjörnar. Foto: Angela Plumb/WWF.
Update: Story also on the BBC
Dr Jon Aars from the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromso describes what happened in the journal Polar Biology. On the 21 July 2006, Mrs Angela Plumb, a tourist from the UK, was aboard a ship in the mouth of a fjord in the Svalbard archipelago.
“The cub was on the back of the polar bear when it was in the water, then it got out of the water and stayed on its mother’s back a little, then she shook it off,” Mrs Plumb explains.
For large parts of the year, polar bears (Ursus maritimus) live among the sea ice, feeding mainly on seals. The challenge for the bears is to navigate the many areas of open water between the islands of floating ice. Seeing the bear had a radio collar, Mrs Plumb got in touch with Dr Aars to report her sighting and asked if this was a common behaviour.
“I hadn’t seen this behaviour before or heard about it so I asked other researchers and found out it is something that has been observed but not frequently at all,” Dr Aars says.
Dr Aars was especially interested if this behaviour might have some adaptive value for the bears. ”This could be potentially important because it means that the cubs get exposed to less water. If they are in the water they would have to swim and very small cubs are very badly insulated in water,” he says.