It’s an extraordinary discovery!
Researchers have discovered a hitherto unknown polar bear population in southeast Greenland that does not depend on sea ice. Instead, this isolated population fishes on freshwater ice near glaciers that flow into the sea, scientists led by Kristin Laidre of the University of Washington write in the journal Science. The population is also genetically different from others.
► According to scientists, there are a few hundred of them, which makes them the 20th known subgroup of polar bears. Researchers have used large amounts of data, including polar bear movements and genetics, over the past 36 years to study populations and observe animals in their environment.
“From the historical records and knowledge of the natives, we knew that there were some bears in the area. However, we did not realize how exceptional they are, “said Laidre. The area is little explored due to unpredictable weather conditions, harsh mountains and heavy snowfall.
Well-known polar bear populations rely heavily on sea ice to heal seals. However, the extent of Arctic sea ice has been declining further in recent decades due to climate change. The discovery of a new population could give hope, scientists write. Freshwater ice on glaciers flowing into the sea could potentially serve as a “previously unknown climate refuge.”
However, they warn against excessive hopes. The study shows how some polar bears can survive climate change, Laidre said. “But I don’t think the glacier habitat is home to a large number of polar bears. There is simply little that. We continue to expect the number of polar bears in the Arctic to fall sharply with climate change. “
Researchers write that the now discovered population also uses sea ice for fishing, which freezes directly on the coast. However, this is available in the area only four months of the year, until the end of May.
This is the most genetically isolated population of polar bears on earth, said co-author Beth Shapiro of the University of California. “We know that this population has been separated from other polar bear populations for at least several hundred years.”