Polar Bears International

Hiding leftover food is a rare behavior in polar bears, but Jon Aars and other researchers from the Norwegian Polar Institute published a paper in the journal "Polar Research" showing a polar bear burying a dolphin it was apparently too full to eat.

©  Jon Aars / Norwegian Polar Institute

6/18/2015 2:14:47 PM

Polar Bears Eat and Freeze Dolphins

A paper, recently published in the journal, Polar Research, describes polar bears eating an unusual food source - dolphins.

Jon Aars of the Norwegian Polar Institute and his colleagues have made the first ever observations of polar bears eating dolphins that had ventured too far north. And it wasn't a one-time incident; they witnessed polar bears eating dolphins several times last year.

"Here we report from a small fjord in Svalbard, Norwegian High Arctic, a sighting of an adult male polar bear preying on two white-beaked dolphins (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) on April 23, 2014. This is the first record of this species as polar bear prey," the authors of the paper wrote.

Normally, dolphins don't reach the high arctic waters until summer. The authors postulated that the dolphins were trapped in the ice by strong northerly winds that blew them off course. The dolphins were likely killed when forced to the surface for air at small openings in the ice. 

Polar bears also catch seals - their primary food source - when they surface to breath.

"Climate change is starting to disrupt ecosystems around the Arctic with a mix of anticipated and unanticipated outcomes," said Geoff York, Polar Bears International's senior director of conservation. "But in this case, while it was a great find for individual bears, it is unlikely that dolphins will replace seals as a primary food for bears across their range. Like many alternative foods, they simply do not occur in the numbers or range required for a population level impact."

The first polar bear the researchers witnessed cached a second dolphin - also unusual behavior. It seemed unable to eat anymore and buried the dolphin under the snow.

"One thing is certain- we can expect more surprises as the climate changes," York said.

Read more: New Scientist, Polar bear caught eating dolphins and freezing the leftovers

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