3M and Polar Bears International have teamed up in the BurronFur project to create advanced polar bear tracking devices. These devices are needed to study polar bears’ behavior, the nature of their movements, the development of their habitat, and subsequent work on their conservation.
The project’s goal was to create a method of mounting the tracking device that would have minimal impact on animals during research. 3M has proposed removable tags attached to animal fur to provide data with the least possible impact. A pilot development is being tested on polar bears in the Arctic.
New and improved prototypes of polar bear tracking devices are currently being tested on polar bears in the Arctic. The removable tags attached to the animals’ fur combine the already available satellite transmitters and innovative ways to attach them.
Researchers are studying polar bears’ behavior in the Arctic to understand their movement and habitat development better and are always looking for ways to improve existing technologies. The project’s goal was to create a way to attach the tracking device directly to the polar bear’s fur for minimal impact on animals during research.
“Traditionally, scientists have used satellite collars to track bears that can only be worn by adult females,” said Jeff Yorke, senior director of environmental protection at Polar Bears International. “Collar should not be put on adult males because their neck is as wide as their head, and young bears grow too fast to be safely collared. As the transmitters got smaller, researchers tested ear tags and GPS implants. Ear tags need to be permanently attached, and implants require little surgery. The devices developed by 3M represent a big potential step forward – they can be used on all types of polar bears, and they will provide us with important data with the least possible impact. ”
Four prototype new tracking tags are being tested on polar bears in western Hudson Bay in the far north of Manitoba, Canada, to tag and track a subpopulation. The tags will then be tested in zoos that regularly research to conserve animal species. Prototype tags are non-toxic, removable, and only attach to bear fur. Different prototypes used both existing 3M technologies and completely new ones.
There are prototypes with both mechanical fasteners and special adhesive solutions, and some of them have several technologies at the same time. All tags must withstand external phenomena: extreme cold, snow, salt water, and some activities typical for polar bears, such as rolling in the snow. The Burr-on-Fur approach allows the device to cling to and adhere to polar bear fur. In addition to tracking, improved tagging technology could provide opportunities to alert communities of approaching bears more accurately.
According to Christa Wright, CEO of Polar Bears International, new tags’ development is important for research and conservation work in polar bears. As the Arctic continues to heat up and the sea ice melts, “creative and innovative advances in research methods and technologies are critical to further efforts to conserve polar bears and wildlife around the world.”