Methods Development

Science Center Objects

Studying polar bears is difficult: they range widely, the environmental conditions are challenging and rapidly changing, and the logistics of mounting field efforts are incredibly expensive. Despite all that, the information needs of managers continues to increase. To cope with these challenges and needs, we are devoting effort to improving the methods we use to collect and analyze data.

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Use of remote sensing technologies to monitor distribution

Advances in remote sensing technologies and detection methods are providing new opportunities for estimating wildlife abundances and distributions. We have been evaluating opportunities to use high-resolution satellite imagery to monitor polar bear distribution on land. While this approach holds promise, it is also clear that improvements in object detection and classification methods are needed before this application can be used effectively. Future work will focus on improving detection and classification algorithms and survey methods.

Remote identification of bear behaviors

Knowledge of an animal’s behavior is critical to understanding how individuals are likely to respond to changing environmental conditions Visual observation is the most direct method to study animal behavior, but it is largely impractical for polar bears because of the difficulty and expense working in the Arctic marine environment. Fortunately, innovations in electronic logging and tracking devices are providing new opportunities to study the behavior, movement, physiology, energetic rates, and environmental conditions of polar bears. We have used tri-axial accelerometers and videocollars to remotely identify and corroborate, respectively, a suite of common polar bear behaviors including resting, walking, and swimming. This new method for quantifying behaviors will allow us to evaluate the potential behavioral and energetic responses of polar bears to declines in Arctic sea ice and increases in anthropogenic activities.