Dolphins in the Arctic are staying longer than in previous years, and this may have led to polar bears targeting them as a food source. Scientists at the Norwegian Polar Institute have confirmed in a study that the bears are hunting and killing dolphins for food, a behavior that has only been seen recently.
Experts say that warmer waters may have caused dolphins to stay in the Arctic during winter and spring, even though dolphins usually leave after summer since a sheet of ice restricts their movement during the colder months. Those dolphins that do stay find themselves trapped by the ice and polar bears are taking advantage of the fact by waiting near air holes. As the dolphins surface, the bears catch them and drag them onto the ice.
“Even if they saw the bear, the dolphins did not necessarily have any other choice,” researcher Jon Aars told AFP.
The first reported cases of bear predation came in 2014 and since then scientists have confirmed a number of documented dolphin kills. Although Aars said it is not a significant change to the polar bear’s diet, it could be a sign of what is to come as new species move in to take advantage of the Arctic’s warmer waters. The dolphins found by researchers were predominately white-beaked dolphins, which may provide an adequate substitute to the polar bear’s normal diet.
“Polar bears depend on sea ice, where they hunt ice-associated seals. However, they are opportunistic predators and scavengers with a long list of known prey species,” stated the study by Aars, which was published in the journal Polar Research.
“An increase of white-beaked dolphins in areas where the sea ice shifts northward may, given the significant size of these animals, offer a new prey or carrion food source to bears in an environment where access to ringed seals and bearded seals may decline in future years,” the authors added.
Aars commented that one bear even attempted to store a dead dolphin under snow, possibly to hide it from other predators. This type of caching behavior is uncommon for polar bears as they have a habit of consuming large prey within a day or less. Since dolphins are larger than seals, however, behavior like that may be the new norm.
You can see more pictures of bears preying on dolphins in the video below:
Polar Bears Seen Eating An Unprecedented Meal… by GeoBeats