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Daily Archives: 15. June 2015 − News & Stories


Polar bear eats dol­phin: nor­mal or not?

Pho­tos are cur­r­ent­ly cir­cu­la­ting in media that show how a polar bear is eating the car­cass of a White-bea­ked dol­phin. Both arti­cles and comments that come with the­se pho­tos are rea­son for some exten­ded comments on the event.

The first obser­va­ti­on was made in April 2014 by Jon Aars, polar bear rese­ar­cher in the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te, and his sci­en­tists, in Raudfjord, whe­re they found a polar bear that was eating a dead White-bea­ked dol­phin. They had not obser­ved how exact­ly the dol­phin had died. In the fol­lowing time up to the sum­mer, several other bears were seen eating more dol­phins, but all fur­ther obser­va­tions rela­te to the same event in the same area.

White-bea­ked dol­phins are com­mon in the Bar­ents Sea inclu­ding Spits­ber­gen waters, but tend to stay at open sea, away from coas­tal waters, and are accord­in­gly not often seen. This con­tri­bu­tes to the wide­ly belie­ved impres­si­on that the­re are no dol­phins in the Arc­tic. This is not true. The state­ment that their “sud­den” pre­sence the­re has to be lin­ked to cli­ma­te chan­ge is obvious­ly wrong, they have been the­re alrea­dy for a long time, without any link to the pre­sent cli­ma­te chan­ge. The­re are, howe­ver, obser­va­tions of White-bea­ked dol­phins in fjords.

It is safe to assu­me that a group of White-bea­ked dol­phins was trap­ped by drift ice in Raudfjord that was blown in the­re by nort­her­ly winds during the days befo­re the first obser­va­ti­on was made. Insi­de the fjord, the dol­phins were for­ced to sur­face regu­lar­ly at small holes in the ice to breath. The­re, they are easy prey for polar bears, who often hunt seals in a very simi­lar way. Polar bears can kill seals instant­ly by hit­ting them with the paw or bit­ing them into the head. The­re is now rea­son why they should not be able to do the same with dol­phins, which are of simi­lar size, once they are for­ced to sur­face in ice simi­lar­ly to seals.

Polar bears are very well known as oppor­tu­nistic fee­ders, which means they will eat almost anything they come across as long as they can get it down. It is no sur­pri­se that they take dol­phins when they can get hold of them. It would actual­ly be very stran­ge if they didn’t.

It is cer­tain­ly true that polar bears do usual­ly not eat dol­phins. This is due to the simp­le fact that dol­phins nor­mal­ly stay in open water, whe­re polar bears are not able to catch them.

If it is now sta­ted that polar bears, who can’t hunt their usu­al prey (seals) now becau­se of cli­ma­te chan­ge, are for­ced to chan­ge to dol­phins, which – again due to cli­ma­te chan­ge – have moved fur­ther north, the­re are obvious­ly several very dif­fi­cult, if not plain­ly wrong, assump­ti­ons invol­ved. The obser­va­ti­on rather means that man has not yet seen ever­ything that occa­sio­nal­ly hap­pens in natu­re, espe­cial­ly in very remo­te are­as in dif­fi­cult sea­sons and with ani­mals which are very dif­fi­cult to fol­low. Espe­cial­ly when it comes to qui­te rare events.

Polar bear sci­en­tist Jon Aars is quo­ted say­ing that White-bea­ked dol­phins may beco­me an important food source for a smal­ler num­ber of spe­cia­li­zed polar bears. This lacks an explana­ti­on how the­se spe­cia­li­zed hun­ters should get hold of tho­se dol­phins on a more or less regu­lar basis, at least more than during a once in a life­time occa­si­on due to rare cir­cum­s­tan­ces. Con­si­de­ring this and the fact that this is, so far, based on only one obser­ved event, it seems a some­what far-reaching hypo­the­sis. (The­re is a num­ber of pho­tos taken on several oppor­tu­nities, but all of them show the same group of polar bears fee­ding on the same group of dead dol­phins in the same area).

Con­clu­si­on: this is cer­tain­ly a rare event and an even more rare obser­va­ti­on, which is, howe­ver, by no means necessa­ri­ly lin­ked to cli­ma­te chan­ge, but due to an unusu­al con­stel­la­ti­on of cir­cum­s­tan­ces.

A polar bear fee­ding on a White-bea­ked dol­phin. Nor­thwest Spits­ber­gen, July 2014 © Samu­el Blanc.

Polar bear eats dolphin

Source: Polarresearch.net

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