Tasul the polar bear is the latest animal research scientist and is cooperating with the U.S. Geological Survey to help learn more about how the bears move. Tasul lives at the Oregon Zoo and is wearing a GPS- and accelerometer-equipped collar that can record information on her movements. Researchers will apply this data when they tag polar bears in the wild to determine how the animals will react and adapt to climate change as sea ice retreats.

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Polar bears are hard to study in the wild – they’re big, they’re dangerous and they live in really cold places that are expensive to get to. “Scientists and wildlife managers need to understand how polar bears are responding as sea ice retreats,” said Amy Cutting, Oregon Zoo curator. “But polar bears are notoriously difficult to study in the wild. Direct behavioral observations are nearly impossible.” To eliminate the problem of direct behavioral studies, researchers have decided that following their movements, migration patterns and their day-to-day activities can be accomplished by recording that data remotely.

To ramp up to the full study, the USGS has begun a pilot program with one very curious bear at the Oregon Zoo. Tasul has been happily wearing a collar equipped with an accelerometer, a GPS device and a GoPro to record her movements. The data is then correlated with video of the bear while in motion – playing, swimming, running, walking, eating, and even sleeping. This info can then be used to understand the data received from real polar bears out in the wild.

“Our research shows that polar bears are being displaced from sea ice habitats they formerly used,” said Anthony Pagano, a wildlife biologist with the USGS Alaska Science Center leading this study. “This collaborative project with the Oregon Zoo will help us understand the implications between going to land or staying with the ice as it retreats hundreds of kilometers north into the Arctic Basin.” This research project will give the researchers a better idea of the impact of climate change on arctic ecosystems, more info on how polar bears behave and hopefully help us provide them better protection. On the plus side, Tasul’s collar also gives us a lot of fun video from the POV of a polar bear.

+ U.S. Geological Survey

[Via CNET]