PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With climate change reducing Artic sea ice, scientists and wildlife managers are hoping to see how polar bears are responding to the change in temperature, which can be difficult due to their environment.
Fortunately, Nora, a polar bear at the Oregon Zoo, has been called on to help out.
Nora has recently been providing beta testing for Burr on Furr — a prototype tech innovation to give conservation scientists a better way to track wild bears in the Arctic.
“Polar bears are notoriously difficult to study in the wild,” said Amy Hash, who supervises the Oregon Zoo’s marine life area. “They live in one of the harshest environments on the planet, and observing their behavior is just about impossible.”
In the past, scientists used satellite collars to follow polar bears, although they only work on females.
“Adult males can’t be collared because their necks are as wide as their heads, and young bears grow too quickly to be collared,” said Geoff York, senior director of conservation at Polar Bears International. “The devices designed by 3M represent a major potential step forward — they could be used on all types of polar bears and would allow us to safely obtain critical data.”
Caregivers at the zoo attached the “techcessory” to Nora’s fur during an exam last week. Zoo staff says the device is meant to fall off eventually, but because Nora is an active bear, the device came off after only several days. Researchers are hoping the device can stay with bears for a longer period of time and are figuring out different ways to attach the device.
“Nora’s a great beta tester,” Hash said. “The way she dives and splashes really helps evaluate how effective a technology like this will be. We hope to try again with another ‘burr on fur’ once there’s another good opportunity. We’re excited to continue collaborating with our conservation partners, and this is a great way for guests to see some of that important work in action.”
Nora isn’t the first bear from the Oregon Zoo to lend a hand to science. Amelia Gray was also outfitted with a Burr on Furr in 2021. Additionally, Ameilia Gray and Nora both helped scientists test a bear laser, which could provide a safe, non-invasive way to monitor wild bears.
“We still have gaps in understanding how climate change is affecting wild polar bears, and it’s essential that the bears in human care help scientists learn more about their species,” said Amy Cutting, Polar Bears International’s vice president of conservation. “Zoo bears are perfect candidates to help because they already participate in many health-care behaviors voluntarily and seem to find those experiences enriching.”