A genetically distinct and functionally isolated group of polar bears that do not depend on sea ice to survive were discovered in Southeast Greenland, according to a study published Thursday.
Where it was once believed that all polar bears are dependent on rapidly declining sea ice for survival, the new group discovered in Greenland occupy an area that closely resembles projected late 21st century conditions for the High Artic, the authors wrote in the article published by Science. The bears exist in an area with an annual ice-free period that is often more than 100 days longer than the established estimated fasting threshold for polar bears across the world, the authors continued.
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The polar bears in this unique region spend most of the year catching seals from hunting platforms created by freshwater glacial mélange, the article continued. “This was just a wholly unexpected finding,” lead author Kristin Laidre told the Washington Post, “They are the most genetically isolated polar bears in the world, and they’re different from all the other currently accepted 19 subpopulations around the Arctic.”
The bears inhabit a deeply remote location in Greenland where their exposure to other members of their species is limited, the Washington Post reported. The researchers are currently unsure as to when the bears got to the remote area, but their data suggests they’ve been there for hundreds of years given their unique genetic makeup, the outlet noted. (RELATED: Bad-A** Cat Gets Shot By Arrow, Believed To Have Taken Arrow Out By Himself)
The group are the most genetically distinct from all 19 other known species of polar bears, Reuters noted. The bears are apparently “living at the edge of what we believe to be physiologically possible,” study co-author Beth Shapiro stated.