The planet’s wildlife is facing a rapidly changing habitat and in the wake of such changes, all creatures search for alternatives. A recent study has followed the behaviour of polar bears and suggests that polar bear diets expand to include dolphins.
It’s the first time that scientists have witnessed polar bears preying on dolphin carcasses and they believe that global warming may be the culprit. As many other species, polar bears have also been forced further north.
Normally, polar bears feed on seals and such behaviour is completely new, Norwegian Polar Institute scientist Jon Aars explains. The photographs of the unusual meal were published in June’s edition of the journal “Polar Research”.
The male polar bear had feasted on a white-beaked dolphin which is believed to have weighed anywhere between 120 and 680 pounds. Curiously enough, the same bear was spotted carrying the carcass of another dolphin which he was most likely saving for later.
“The warming of the Arctic is significantly changing the ecosystem and relations between species,” study authors wrote.
Scientists explain that dolphins don’t normally venture so far north, however, changing climate has forced peculiar behavior among all species. The sub-Arctic, which is preferred by dolphins, has more open water but less ice and hadn’t it have been for the unusual sea-ice year, Aars suggests, dolphins wouldn’t have found themselves in such difficult situations.
Dolphins may be seen in the Norwegian Arctic during summertime. Rapid ice melting in recent months as well as two nigh-ice-free winters may have contributed to the dolphin’s unusual migratory behavior.
The study authors claim that the most likely explanation for the dolphins’ unfortunate predicament was the fact that they had encountered strong northerly winds which caused a sudden arrival of dense ice. Most likely, they were killed when surfacing for air.
Aside from the recent shift of the bear’s taste buds, scientists also discovered a new behavior: the polar bear covered the second dolphin with ice, saving it (most likely) for a later meal.
“We think that he tried to cover the dolphin in snow in the hope that other bears, foxes or birds would have less of a chance of finding it,” study authors wrote.
The photos show that the male polar bear was exceptionally thin (his ribs were clearly visible through his fur).
Though dolphins aren’t regular meals for polar bears, things could soon shift as the Arctic warms. Aars and his colleagues explain that the newly-observed behavior isn’t a sign of a sudden diet shift of the bears, but the fact that they are now coming in contact with new species they haven’t yet met. Just as they feast on whales (if the opportunity presents itself), they would also feast on dolphins if given the chance.
Image Source: mentalfloss