We’ve long known climate change will cause trouble for polar bears in the wild, but a new study reveals their metabolic rates are higher than we thought, and a changing environment is making it harder for them to snare enough food to satisfy energy needs. As they struggle to find prey, The Guardian reported they could go extinct faster than scientists previously feared.

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A team of scientists led by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Alaska Science Center and the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) studied nine polar bears over three years during a time period in April, in the Beaufort Sea near Alaska. They discovered the bears required three juveniles or one adult ringed seal every 10 days. But five of the nine polar bears didn’t reach that goal during the study, and their body weight plummeted as a result – up to around 44 pounds, during one study period of 10 days.

Related: Video of starving polar bear ‘rips your heart out of your chest’

USGS biologist Anthony Pagano told The Guardian, “We found a feast and famine lifestyle – if they missed out on seals it had a pretty dramatic effect on them. We were surprised to see such big changes in body masses, at a time when they should be putting on bulk to sustain them during the year. This and other studies suggest that polar bears aren’t able to meet their bodily demands like they once were.”

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Metabolic rates the scientists measured in the field averaged over 50 percent higher than previous studies predicted. Combined with other studies on drops in the numbers of polar bears recently, and their body condition, scientists say this new study, published this month in Science, reveals the bears are in a worse plight than we thought.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average, per The Guardian. Polar bears hunt for prey on sea ice, but as that ice diminishes, many polar bears must resort to foraging for food on land – like in garbage bins of remote towns, according to The Guardian.

+ University of California, Santa Cruz

+ Science

Via The Guardian

Images via Jessica K. Robertson, U.S. Geological Survey and Anthony M. Pagano, USGS