A polar bear at the Oregon Zoo is now a research assistant for the federal government.
Oregon Zoo visitors will see Tasul wearing a high-tech collar periodically throughout the summer. It's part of a U.S. Geological Survey project regarding climate change.
"Scientists and wildlife managers need to understand how polar bears are responding as sea ice retreats," said Amy Cutting, Oregon Zoo curator. "But polar bears are notoriously difficult to study in the wild. Direct behavioral observations are nearly impossible."
The collar detects changes in motion and direction of movement. It turns Tasul's everyday activities like walking, eating, sleeping and swimming into electronic signals.
By recording video of her wearing the collar and matching the behavior to the signals, researchers will create a sort of digital fingerprint for polar bear behavior, according to the zoo.
Once the signals are calibrated, similar collars can be placed on free-roaming bears in the Arctic, allowing researchers to monitor their behavior without having to observe them directly. These collars will be equipped with quick-release mechanisms so scientists can open them remotely, and let them drop off the bears, after the necessary data has been obtained.
To train Tasul to wear the device, zoo keepers slowly acclimated her to different types of neckwear over several months. They also attached a small GoPro camera to her training collar to provide a "bear's-eye view" of Tasul's daily activities.
Zoo workers said Tasul is a very curious bear by nature, and seems to be enjoying all the extra attention from keepers throughout the process.
Copyright 2013 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.
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