Like most 2-year-olds, Nora is curious, playful, and a little mischievous.
Unlike most 2-year-olds, she tips the scales at several hundred pounds.
That’s because Nora is a polar bear at the Oregon Zoo in Portland.
This month, Nora hits the road for her new home at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City while the Oregon Zoo undergoes renovations. But during her time in Portland, she was able to serve as one of the the U.S. Geological Survey’s youngest (and furriest) research assistants, helping scientists study the effects of climate change.
It seems so far removed: Desperate, hungry polar bears clinging to ice floes, ravaged by our changing planet. But it’s happening right now.
Wild polar bears live in a unique and harsh environment and consume as many calories as they can when conditions allow and food is readily available. However, there is a long period of time when the ice floes melt and polar bears are forced ashore, away from their primary food sources.
“They literally are starving, not eating anything for that four- or five-month period,” says Amy Cutting, animal curator of the North America and Marine Life Exhibit at the Oregon Zoo. “The females are raising young and putting huge amounts of calories into milk they’re producing while not eating. And we know they’re at the limit of what they can do.”
Polar bears are pushing it to metabolic extremes to survive the annual ice-free period. But what will happen as climate change extends the ice-free period even longer?
Thankfully, Nora and researchers with the USGS are on the case, working to answer the question: What does it physically cost for a bear to swim from point A to point B?
To answer that question, the zoo built Nora a small pool adjacent to her tank with private donations.
There, a flume of water acts as an infinity pool, allowing Nora (lured by yummy fish) to swim in place for a period of time.
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