Over the past several years, ten polar bears equipped with radio-tracking collars have roamed the Arctic. The data from those collars will help scientists protect these top predators down the line, but there's also a perk for the rest of us: they also recorded video!

It's time to hit the ice for a bit of "hunt, eat, play and repeat" – polar bear-style.

This amazing clip was captured near Alaska's Beaufort Sea by the US Geological Survey (USGS). And in case you're wondering, our polar bear guide is not wearing heavy kit: the small cameras are non-intrusive, and specially designed to pop off after about two weeks. 

"No bears were harmed during this process," the team explains. "And all research was approved through strict animal care and use guidelines." 

The footage is timed with the release of US Fish and Wildlife's new polar bear conservation management plan (CMP), which aims to work with native peoples to ensure that these animals – and their precious habitat – are protected for years to come.

It's estimated that 22,000-25,000 polar bears exist in the wild, but as sea ice continues to melt, they've been forced to adapt in order to survive. In fact, we're already seeing polar bears moving farther into human-dominated landscapes. Manitoba, Canada – which sits nearly 2,000 miles southeast of Alaska – experienced its highest number of bear sightings this year. Greenland and Norway are also seeing similar trends.

"New technology lets us actually see what the bears are seeing and learn what they are doing in places rarely accessed and at times of the year when it's hard to follow them," says Geoff York, senior director of conservation at Polar Bears International (PBI).

PBI has also kickstarted a collar-cam programme in the hope of sleuthing out what bears in seasonal ice areas (where the sea ice melts away completely in summer) do to find food. This large female, for example, was seen supplementing with berries near Canada's James Bay:

"The footage is visually stunning, but it's also important from a research perspective," says the team. "It allows us to understand how polar bears spend their time and energy when forced ashore." Insight into the behaviors and nutritional demands of these bears might help us predict what the northern populations will do as their frozen habitat recedes. 

But if all goes according to plan, we'll have more than just collar cams keeping tabs on the bears. In their proposed management plan, USFWS notes that working together with local hunting communities will be critical.

"A cooperative agreement can help involve [legal] harvesters in conservation and management of polar bears," they said in an official statement. With more eyes on the ground, we'll be able to collect and exchange more observations. This can only help paint a clearer picture of where the bears are headed, which parts of their habitat are being hit hardest, and how healthy the bears are in spite of that.

Collaboration with Inuit and other native communities will also make it easier to mitigate human-bear conflict and enforce catch limits. "There are clear actions that humans can take to improve the chances that healthy polar bear populations persist in the future," adds USGS.

Our ursine explorers have turned in their videographer hats for now, but we're excited to see what discoveries surface when and if another set of collar cams is deployed. 


Top header image: Stewart Breck/USDA