Summer refugia of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in the southern Beaufort Sea
Climate change is altering habitats and causing changes to species behaviors and distributions. Rapid changes in Arctic sea ice ecosystems have increased the need to identify critical habitats for conservation and management of species such as polar bears (Ursus maritimus). We examined the distribution of adult female and subadult male and female polar bears tracked by satellite telemetry (n = 64 collars) in the southern Beaufort Sea, Canada, to identify summer refugia in 2007–2010. Using utilization distributions, we identified terrestrial and sea ice areas used as summer refugia when nearshore sea ice melted. Habitat use areas varied between months, but interannual variation was not significant. Overall, bears made high use of ice over shallow waters, and bears that remained near terrestrial areas used sea ice (presumably to hunt from) when it was available. The majority of the bears remained on sea ice during summer and used the edge of the pack ice most notably west of Banks Island, Canada. A mean of 27 % (range 22–33 %) of bears used terrestrial areas in Alaska and use was concentrated near the remains of subsistence harvested bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus). Energetic expenditure is anticipated to increase as bears are required to travel further on a seasonal basis.