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The Hearing Study – A Step Toward Protecting Polar Bears

3 min read
The Hearing Study – A Step Toward Protecting Polar Bears

Scientists in California have been conducting in-depth research into the hearing of Polar Bears for the past few years, through bear watching and data collection. The purpose of this research, gathered by experts from the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research and the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute for the Hearing Study Project, was to find out what tones Polar Bears can and cannot hear.

The Importance of Timely Research

Results of the research have revealed that these Bears actually have notably sensitive hearing at certain frequencies. This aspect has become more pertinent recently, since many of the regions the bears inhabit are also home to some of the most sought-after oil deposits on the planet. Oil extraction brings with it noisy activities, such as ice road construction, seismic surveys, sizeable vehicles travelling across the land, and explosions, among others.

A Changing Habitat

As any amateur wildlife enthusiast lucky enough to have been on a Polar Bear watching excursion will be able to attest, these animals are not very vocal; moreover, they live in one of the quietest places in the world. The oil industry, however, is changing their environment, and many experts believe the extra noise is putting excessive amounts of stress on the Bears, especially on denning mothers.

Collecting Data

In order to carry out the study, researchers chose five healthy, adult female Polar Bears of breeding age and constructed them soundproof ‘bedrooms’. They then trained the bears to respond to various tones by touching a target with their nose. After exposing the bears to over 4,000 different tones, the scientists developed an audiogram based on the data, which reflected the sensitivities of polar bears’ hearing.

Understanding the bears’ hearing is only the first step, however: once the researchers have established what kinds of noise polar bears are most sensitive to, they will be able to deduce which oil industry noises create the highest stress levels on the animals.

Documenting the Impact of Noise

Since the main concern with regards to noise levels in the North Pole is the impact it is having on denning mothers and their cubs, scientists now intend to travel there to conduct further experiments that will entail not only bear watching, but also the construction of manmade Polar Bear dens in the snow. These will then be fitted with microphones and sound-level meters programmed to measure different noises, such as snowmobiles, trucks, helicopters, etc. The data will then be collated in order to obtain some insight into how much the bears are being affected by increasing noise levels in their habitats, and whether this is having a detrimental effect on their denning habits.

Finally, researchers are hoping to be able to understand how Bear mothers and cubs communicate with each other inside their dens, and whether outside noise could have any impact on mother-cub communication.

Ongoing Studies

This valuable study is ongoing and there is still a lot to be learnt about Polar Bears and their behaviour. Climate change and the oil industry are taking a significant toll on the North Pole, and it is hoped that the results of the Hearing Study Project will allow conservationists to better protect this fascinating and beautiful species.

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