Of fingerprints and polar bear whiskers

November 14, 2008

 What do human fingerprints and polar bear “whisker prints” have in common?

You probably guessed — both give away identity.

Jane Waterman, a Canadian biologist at the University of Central Florida, is asking any tourist who takes a photo of a polar bear around Churchill, Canada, to send it to her to help study the bears. Here’s her website.

Polar bears look pretty much the same to most people — big, white and to be avoided.

But the “whisker prints”, the pattern of dark dots around the mouth, are unique and Waterman hopes that snapshots taken around Churchill will build a record of what the bears get up to. Bears are in trouble because global warming is melting their icy Arctic homes.

The pictures above show the same bear — taken in two different years along with a pattern of whisker prints that proved it was one and the same.

“A special computer program, with software similar to NASA’s algorithm for mapping stars, identifies each bear by that print and will allow Waterman and her students to track the declining population,” a statement said.

…One useful tip: get a telephoto lens.

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