When fuel companies explore northern Alaska for oil, federal regulations require them to steer clear of polar bears. To locate the endangered species during winter months, fixed-wing planes mounted with forward-looking infrared technology, or FLIR, are sent out to scan for dens hidden under the ice.
These aerial FLIR surveys have been used for more than 15 years now as the tool of choice for locating polar bear dens, but a new study by Brigham Young University biologist and bear expert Tom Smith finds they correctly identify maternal dens less than half the time.
According to the study, published in the journal PLOS One, infrared technology used by oil-field operators between 2004 and 2016 located only 45% of the dens known to exist along a 139-mile stretch of Alaska’s Beaufort Sea coastal areas that extend east and west of Prudhoe Bay. MORE