Formerly, scientific researchers studying polar bears had no choice but to tranquilize the animals in order to fit collars and collect samples if they needed information. Now, learning more about the white bear of the north may be as simple as locating a few footprints.
A new research method involves collecting snow around the prints the bears leave behind as they trek across the Arctic, melting down that snow, and filtering it to extract DNA from the remaining cells.
On a recent WWF expedition to the Svalbard Islands of Norway, researchers had great success using this procedure. Snow was collected from 10 prints left by a female polar bear. DNA evidence showed that a seal and seagull were both present. The seal blood present indicated that the bear had killed the seal. Scientists at the French genetic firm Spygen speculated that the seagull arrived later to feast on the leftovers.
The implications of extracting DNA from footprints are far reaching, as just one cell can provide much information. This technique has also been used successfully on a brown bear track left in the mud and Scientists at the University of Grenoble are hoping to use a similar method to analyze water samples and determine what species of fish and amphibians are present.