Polar Bears Turning To Cannibalism To Survive
December 9, 2011

Polar Bears Turning To Cannibalism To Survive

One prominent wildlife expert and photojournalist has gathered pictures proving that arctic polar bears trapped on land will turn to cannibalism in order to survive.

Jenny Ross, described by UPI as an environmental photojournalist, witnessed a polar bear eating what she initially believed was a seal carcass, then dragging it across the ice at Olgastretet, a stretch of water in the Svalbard archipelago in northern Norway.

However, as she got closer, she realized that it was, in fact, the body of a cub.

Ross told UPI that polar bears, who normally hunt seals, will seek out other sources of their food and will turn to eating their own kind on occasion if necessary. According to Rob Waugh of the Daily Mail, however, scientists have reported that the behavior is on the rise, and global warming may be to blame.

"This type of intraspecific predation has always occurred to some extent," Ross told BBC News Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos on Monday. "However, there are increasing numbers of observations of it occurring, particularly on land where polar bears are trapped ashore, completely food-deprived for extended periods of time due to the loss of sea ice as a result of climate change."

The Daily Mail published several of Ross's pictures along with a Thursday article discussing her findings. In one image, the UK newspaper points out that the bear "stood up defensively" as the photographer approached it, then dragged the body of its victim to a different ice flow in order to continue eating. It stood up over the carcass in order to establish its "dominance" and to warn Ross not to attempt to come after her meal.

"As soon as the adult male became aware that a boat was approaching him, he basically stood to attention - he straddled the young bear's body, asserting control over it and conveying 'this is my food'," Ross told Amos. "He then picked up the bear in his jaws and, just using the power of his jaws and his neck, transported it from one floe to another. And eventually, when he was a considerable distance away, he stopped and fed on the carcass."

Waugh reports that it is the first recorded photographic evidence of cannibalism among polar bears, and reports that scientists have observed that instances of cannibalism among these animals has increased since their habitats have become increasingly at risk because of climate change.

Ross also says that, in addition to turning to cannibalism, the polar bears are also seeking other sources of food.

"On land, they're looking for human garbage and human foods; they're starting to prey on seabirds and their eggs," she told Amos. "None of those alternative foods can support them, but they are seeking them out."

The photograph was taken during a visit to the arctic in July 2010, and a paper co-authored by Ross and Environment Canada Polar Bear Biologist Dr. Ian Stirling has recently been published in Arctic, the journal of the Arctic Institute of North America.


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