DEC 10, 2020 2:56 PM PST

3M Helps Solve Polar Bear Tracking Problem

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

As climate change continues to alter the Arctic landscape, polar bear research becomes more urgent. Observing animals in a land of sea ice, snow, and permafrost presents unique challenges. Observing large, active, and aggressive predators such as polar bears compounds these challenges. These difficulties led Polar Bears International (PBI) researcher BJ Kirschhoffer to reach out to his dad—Jon Kirschhoffer, a research specialist at 3M—for help.

BJ detailed the challenges of tracking polar bears and using tracking collars in a PBI article. He states that remote tracking is vital to understanding habitat use and movements, especially in remote or rugged habitats out on sea ice. However, satellite tracking collars are only used on females. He states that males’ necks are as wide as their heads, meaning collars would slip off. Subadult males and females are not collared because they grow quickly. Rather than use permanently attached tags or implants, researchers prefer temporary tag attachments as they are non-invasive.

So, he presented this challenge to his dad to see if 3M would be interested in tackling it. According to BJ, “they liked the environmental aspect and the chance to contribute to polar bear conservation.” He stated that the tagging method must be non-invasive, non-toxic, and temporary. The tag must withstand Arctic conditions—saltwater, snow, wind, and ice—for up to one year.

According to PBI, 3M began the “Tag a Bear Challenge” in November 2018 as a brainstorming session. Ideas were narrowed down through research, resulting in the “burr on fur” approach to catch and stick in polar bear fur. Throughout the two-year process, much of which occurred digitally this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, four prototypes were created and planned to be evaluated next year.

The new tags will provide information about polar bears of all sizes of females and males, hopefully closing nagging data gaps. In a statement from 3M, PBI executive director Krista Wright stated, “As the Arctic continues to warm and sea ice melts, creative and innovative advances in research methods and technology are critical to furthering conservation efforts—for polar bears and for wildlife around the globe.”

Sources: Polar Bears International, 3M

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
DEC 15, 2020
Plants & Animals
How an Insect Gained Its Wings
DEC 15, 2020
How an Insect Gained Its Wings
For decades, researchers have tried to understand how insect wings evolved. It seemed that none of the proposed explanat ...
FEB 25, 2021
Plants & Animals
Do Fish Have Personality?
FEB 25, 2021
Do Fish Have Personality?
Fish may seem to just swim around without much thought or character. But new research reported in Ecology and Evolution ...
FEB 28, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
How a Slime Mold with no Brain Can Remember Things
FEB 28, 2021
How a Slime Mold with no Brain Can Remember Things
Our past experiences help us navigate future obstacles, and it seems that even organisms without a brain have that skill ...
MAR 14, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Modern Animals Still Have Similarities to Our Weird Ancient Ancestors
MAR 14, 2021
Modern Animals Still Have Similarities to Our Weird Ancient Ancestors
Recent research involving ancient marine animals shows how humans and other animals still carry some of those animals' c ...
MAR 26, 2021
Plants & Animals
Studies Confirm that Bottlenose Dolphins Vocalize to Synchronize Behaviors
MAR 26, 2021
Studies Confirm that Bottlenose Dolphins Vocalize to Synchronize Behaviors
The ability to communicate with one another to coordinate behaviors contributes to the success of social mammals, like b ...
APR 15, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
What can snakes teach us about durability?
APR 15, 2021
What can snakes teach us about durability?
A team of biologists, chemists, and engineers are studying snake locomotion in order to help them better design durable ...
Loading Comments...