Conversationalists are searching for ways to protect polar bear populations across the Arctic landscape from our greatest legacy: climate change. As the rising temperatures alter their homeland, polar bears have to deal with new challenges such as starvation and are facing a bleak future ahead.
In order to collect the crucial information that could serve as alarm bells to policymakers, researchers are putting satellite collars on polar bears and obtaining location information, activity rates, and temperature data; which in turn can enable us to better understand population responses to ongoing sea ice loss from carbon emission, per Polar Bears International.
Tracking polar bears is not an easy feat
Polar bears live in some of the most inhospitable and inaccessible habitats on Earth, regularly go in and out of the sea that is sometimes frozen, and roll feverishly over snow.
Moreover, male adult polar bears have necks that are larger than their hands, rendering collars useless. For decades, researchers have had to settle for collaring and tracking adult female bears, and while they've tried ear tags, they decided against it since they could cause potential injuries.
Non-invasive, non-toxic, and temporary trackers with the help of Post-It pioneers
Most recently, Polar Bears International asked for help from 3M to see if the Post-It note pioneer could come up with a less permanent way to tag the polar bears in a way that eventually the trackers would fall off all on their own.
The tagging method had to be non-invasive, non-toxic, and temporary while also withstanding Arctic conditions for up to one year.
Sticking a device to a polar bear's fur like a burr
Liking the environmental aspect, 3M began the "Tag a Bear Challenge" in November 2018 and the "Burr on Fur" approach was chosen, which will allow the device to latch onto and stick to a polar bear’s fur like a burr.
In two years, four prototypes were created that are currently being tested on polar bears in northern Manitoba, Canada. They will be further tested on bears in zoos and aquariums.
The prototypes range from mechanical solutions to adhesive solutions, and in one case a hybrid of both. In some cases, 3M utilized existing technologies they used, while in some others, they had to find completely new techniques.
These prototypes still require the polar bear to be sedated first which means there is room for improvement. Could 3M make attaching a tracker to an animal as easy as sticking a Post-It note? The goal seems to be just that.
You can watch this Burr on Furr video to better understand the brains behind the project: