Bears take a break, but research continues

This summer, the WSU bears sported some new accessories: energy-monitoring collars. But a few weeks ago, those collars came off for the winter.

Grizzly bear with a bright pink energy monitoring collar around it's neck.
An energy monitoring collar, in place. The collars were removed earlier this month as the bears ready for hibernation.

“We put them on early in the summer,” said WSU doctoral student Tony Carnahan. “But as they’ve been gaining weight to get ready for hibernation, we didn’t want the collars to get too tight. So we took them off until next spring.”

Carnahan and other WSU scientists will use the winter, when the bears are hibernating, to go through all the data they collected this season, both from the collars and treadmill sessions.

“We’ll be busy,” Carnahan said. “We’ve got to sync the data between heart monitors, three kinds of acceleration-measuring devices, and video of them on the treadmills. We’re not sure what kind of data we’ll get, but it should give us an idea of how much energy they’re using when doing different activities.”

For example, to match uphill or downhill walking, the bears used the treadmill on different incline and decline rates as well as at varying speeds, he said.

Researchers will continue this energy-monitoring project through the 2018 season. After that, they plan to place collars on bears living in the wild. This way, researchers can correlate the results of the bears traversing treadmills versus hills and valleys.

“We want to find out how much energy they’re using when they decide to walk to a good salmon run, for example,” Carnahan said. “And to know if it’s worth it, from a cost/benefit standpoint. That could eventually tell us how and why they cover various ranges of land.”

For now, the collars are in storage until next spring, and the WSU research bears are getting fatter by the day to prepare for hibernation.