Photo credit: Polar Cruises/Creative Commons
In the Arctic, polar bears have recently been observed swimming in icy water while carrying young cubs on their backs. It's the result, researchers explained, of having to swim greater distances to find solid sea ice—and is an innovation that may be crucial for the survival of the species.As sea ice in the arctic has melted, the bears have been forced to swim much farther to find substantial chunks. Geoff York, a polar bear specialist from WWF, explained:
Data from tagged bears near Alaska has indicated swims of 350-400 miles in the past four years and if polar bear cubs are forced to cover these distances, then it is vital for them to behave in a way that minimises heat loss.
By placing cubs on their backs, polar bear mothers help keep the small bears—which have not yet developed sufficient fat stores—above the freezing water. High and dry on the mother's back, the cubs are also warmed by the adult bear's body heat.
"This reported behaviour," York said, "and anything else that helps cub survival in those circumstances, is good news."