Researchers at the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) reported that they had spotted Arctic polar bears eating dolphins, an unusual change in their diet that may have been triggered by global warming.
Polar bears’ favorite dish is seals, but a series of photos taken by a NPI researcher Jon Aars show a polar bear that feasts on dolphin carcasses in the Norwegian Arctic. The disturbing photos and a paper on the issue were published this month in the journal Polar Research.
“It is likely that new species are appearing in the diet of polar bears due to climate change because new species are finding their way north,”
Mr. Aars explained.
The photos were taken in April 2014 when he and his colleagues from the NPI came across a polar bear dining on the bodies of a couple of white-beaked dolphins. Scientists were surprised to find dolphins swimming in the Norwegian parts of the Arctic Ocean during spring. Usually, they appear there in summer when all sheets of ice have melted.
Yet, the research team believes that a major retreat of ice, warmer waters and two winters with almost no ice may have lured the dolphins further north. But that proved fatal to them because they appear to have been trapped by dense ice sheets quickly pushed into a fjord by terrible northerly winds.
Researchers explained that the bear from the pictures most likely caught the two mammals that had been trapped under the ice while they were trying to breathe through a small ice hole.
Mr. Aars thinks that the two dolphins had no other choice but to surface even though they probably saw the bear. They would have died of suffocation if they had stayed hidden.
In the images took by Mr. Aars, we can clearly see a rather skinny old bear that feasts on the carcass of one of the two dolphins while trying to hide the other dolphin in the snow for a late snack. Researchers said that such behavior is unique in the scientific literature.
They think that the bear tried to hide the second carcass from other predators such as birds, polar bears and foxes in order to preserve it for later. In a day or two when the first dolphin was completely digested he probably returned to the second one.
But since that 2014 moment, five more cases of dolphins being eaten by polar bears were reported. Researcher Aars believes that the incidents are not significant enough to represent a “great upheaval” in polar bear diet. Instead, it is a case of polar bears coming into contact with new species that they never met before.
Image Source: Daily Mail
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