By Andrew Griffin
11 June 2015
(The Independent) – Bears have been seen catching and eating dolphins for the first time ever, after the marine mammals were left stuck in the Arctic Ocean because of global warming.
It marks the first time that bears have been seen killing and eating dolphins. Usually, the dolphins only go up north during the warmer summer — but this year they have arrived in spring.
The bears catch the dolphins in a similar way to the seals that they usually eat. Both animals keep holes in the ice which they use to come up and breathe from — at which point, if the bear is lucky, it will snatch them up and eat them.
The researchers observed the behaviour for the first time last year. At least six different bears have been seen eating the dolphins since then, scientists write in a new report in the journal Polar Research, “White-beaked dolphins trapped in the ice and eaten by polar bears’.
After eating the dolphin, the bear seemed to cover it with ice so that it could be kept for later. Such behaviour is rare in polar bears, and could be a result of the animals not having enough to eat.
The authors of the study describe the bear as having “clearly visible ribs” and being “very skinny”.
The habitat of polar bears is shrinking drastically as the Arctic warms. As such, scientists expect to be able to observe them much less in the coming years.
The same global warming appears to be trapping the dolphins, leaving them stuck and so able to be caught by the bears. [more]
ABSTRACT: Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) 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. 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 23 April 2014. This is the first record of this species as polar bear prey. White-beaked dolphins are frequent visitors to Svalbard waters in summer, but have not previously been reported this far north in early spring. We suggest they were trapped in the ice after strong northerly winds the days before, and possibly killed when forced to surface for air at a small opening in the ice. The bear had consumed most parts of one dolphin. When observed he was in the process of covering the mostly intact second dolphin with snow. Such caching behaviour is generally considered untypical of polar bears. During the following ice-free summer and autumn, at least seven different white-beaked dolphin carcasses were observed in or near the same area. We suggest, based on the area and the degree to which these dolphins had decayed, that they were likely from the same pod and also suffered death due to entrapment in the ice in April. At least six different polar bears were seen scavenging on the carcasses.