This video marks the filmmaking debut of wild polar bears, enabled by camera-equipped tracking collars from the U.S. Geological Survey. It feels like a polar bear's jumbled dream about daily life, featuring snippets of shaky, first-person footage that range from gruesome to endearing.
USGS biologists attached the collars to four female bears north of Alaska's Prudhoe Bay in April 2014, part of a new study on how the species is dealing with rapidly melting sea ice. This clip is the first footage the researchers have released, offering a candid look at polar bear behavior as well as a fascinating two-minute hint of what it's like to be one of Earth's most fearsome predators.
The video opens with one of the bears splashing into the Beaufort Sea, then cuts to a seal seen ominously from below. The next part gets a bit grisly, with the camerabear slinging around a dead seal, but it's followed by a charming confrontation between the protagonist and a "potential mate," as he's identified in the video. After they flirt for a while, the final scene shows a bear tossing her frozen seal into the ocean — possibly an attempt to thaw it out, according to the researchers.
Scientists have long used radio and satellite collars to track polar bears' movement patterns, the USGS notes in a press release, but new video collars let them link location data with footage of what the bears are actually doing. And although the collar cams automatically detach after eight to 10 days, even just a week of data can shed valuable light on how often the bears hunt, eat, explore and rest, and how such behaviors are affected by environmental changes — namely the loss of sea ice.
"Ultimately, this information will help scientists examine the energetic rates and nutritional demands of these animals and the potential effects of declining sea ice conditions," USGS biologist Anthony Pagano says in a statement. The researchers plan to continue their collar-cam project in 2015.
Related polar bear stories from MNN: