Polar bear cubs may reduce chilling from icy water by sitting on mother’s back
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The principal habitat of polar bears Ursus maritimus is sea ice where they hunt seals. Much of the sea ice habitat is scattered or with leads of open water. Adults are good swimmers. They are well adapted to cold water, while small cubs do not yet have fat layer sufficient to avoid chilling if swimming in icy water for any prolonged period of time. An important question is thus how female mothers and their cubs may behave to avoid that cubs get chilled, but at the same time making it possible for the families to hunt is those areas. We describe an observation of a polar bear cub on its mother’s back while the mother was swimming among ice floes in Svalbard, Norwegian Arctic. Similar observations are to our knowledge not earlier described in the scientific literature. We point out that this behaviour minimize exposure to cold water and hence significantly may reduce chilling of the cub. It may also be a way for the mother to transfer cubs not yet able or willing to swim. The behaviour may be necessary to allow the families to get around in areas of sea ice with many open leads.
KeywordsPolar bears Swimming Body temperature
Thanks to Christian Lydersen for commenting on the manuscript, and to Steve Amstrup, Gregory Thiemann and one anonymous reviewer for very useful review comments.
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