You may have seen the headlines in Canadian news outlets over the last 2 days.
“Polar bears swimming farther as sea ice recedes, study shows”
“Melting sea ice forces polar bears to swim longer, farther: study” [“Bear biologist Andrew Derocher says the forced swims are particularly hard on mothers with young cubs”]
Oddly, none of the above news reports said where the paper was published or mentioned the name of the lead author – only University of Alberta co-author Andrew Derocher was interviewed (see the only press release I could find here, issued by the San Diego Zoo where the lead author is now employed).[update: CBC ran another story a day later that corrected these omissions]
But what did the study actually say?
Significantly, no bears died while swimming during the two lowest sea ice extent summers since 1979 and no evidence was presented that swims were “particularly hard on mothers with young cubs.” The quotes from the paper below sum it up for Beaufort Sea (BS) bears (the inclusion of Hudson Bay (HB) bears in this study seems gratuitous and potentially misleading, since only a few swam anyway – only 15 out of 59):
“….91% (91/100) of the swims in the BS occurred before the annual September minimum sea ice extent had been reached. …In the BS, 81% (29/36) of swims started and ended in pack ice…”
So, despite what may be implied during media moments, Beaufort Sea polar bears were not frantically trying to reach the sea ice from land so that they could attempt to keep feeding over the summer – most of their swimming was done during breakup in July and August from one bit of pack ice to another and they showed no evidence of harm from doing so. Map from the study and more quotes below.