Anchorage, Alaska: A new study has revealed that polar bears' metabolism cannot cope with starvation associated with warmer summers in the Arctic.
Previously, scientists had believed that polar bears can overcome starvation by entering a low energy state known as 'walking hibernation'
However, the new study of southern Beaufort Sea polar bears contradicts the previous research instead, it finds that the animals have no special ability to conserve energy during the summer months when ice sea melts and food becomes scarce.
Polar bears feed mainly on seals that they hunt on the sea ice, but increased melting in the summer months makes it hard for the bears to find a meal.
To come to this conclusion, scientists embarked on a dangerous and expensive trial where they attached satellite collars and surgically implanted logging devices to track the bears' movements and to record physiological details, reports the BBC.
The researchers studied more than two dozen bears in the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska.
They found that the bears didn't slow down in the summer months, but, simply starve in hotter conditions when food is deficient.
“Their metabolism is very much like a typical food limited mammal rather than a hibernating bear,” said John Whiteman from the University of Wyoming, the paper's lead author.
“This paper gives us the first solid understanding of polar bear metabolism in summer, especially out on the sea ice over deep water far from shore, where bears have never been sampled before,” Whiteman added.
Back in 2008, polar bears were listed as a threatened species in the US.
The new findings indicate that the increasing sea ice loss represents a significant threat to the future of the species.
The research has been published Thursday in the journal Science.