In August 2020, biologist Izabela Kulaszewicz was settling in for a lazy night at the Polish Polar Station, Hornsund, on Norway’s Svalbard island chain, when a message came by the radio. Two scientists had actually simply identified a polar bear. Having wished to see one all summertime, Kulaszewicz, of the University of Gdańsk, and a handful of other researchers hurried outdoors.
About 100 meters away, a chubby female polar bear was smelling the air and strolling towards the coast. Soon, she vanished into a dip in the tundra, just to emerge seconds later on, galloping towards numerous reindeer on the coastline. She pursued one bull and chased it into the sea (see video, above). Less than 25 meters offshore, the predator sunk her claws in the reindeer’s back, bit its neck, and required it undersea. The reindeer was dead within 1 minute.
The cook at the research study station caught whatever on movie, making it the first video proof of polar bears hunting and consuming reindeer—something that had actually long been presumed, however never ever plainly seen.
“I was shocked,” Kulaszewicz states. “I thought reindeer were good swimmers, and the bear would have a bigger problem catching the reindeer. But it was totally different.” After dragging the carcass ashore, the bear consumed over half of it in one sitting.
Polar bears haven’t constantly hunted reindeer. Their preferred meal is seal—which they capture through holes in the ice far offshore. The blubber from one adult ringed seal can assist a polar bear endure for more than 10 days. If they consume adequate blubber, they can quickly for months.
But as environment modification melts sea ice previously in the year, more polar bears are required to invest their summer seasons foraging on land. Polar bears have actually been seen eating bird eggs, rodents, and even garbage at garbage dumps. “If it moves, or even doesn’t move, there’s a good chance they’ll try to eat it,” states polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher of the University of Alberta, Edmonton, who wasn’t associated with the brand-new research study.
Kulaszewicz and her coworkers describe the remarkable hunt in a paper released previously this month in Polar Biology. The paper consists of a minimum of 12 other reports of bears pursuing or consuming reindeer, recommending these occasions are ending up being more regular, they compose. But whereas previous reports don’t constantly keep in mind whether the reindeer were eliminated or scavenged, the brand-new report reveals polar bears can effectively hunt reindeer, Derocher states. “We don’t see these sorts of events very often. We quite often see the aftereffects.”
The research study’s senior author, Gdańsk ecologist Lech Stempniewicz, states he discovers it remarkable that the hunt happened in the sea. Reindeer can swim and run well over fars away, however “in a triathlon consisting of sprinting; swimming in shallow waters with uneven, rocky bottoms, skerries, and ice floes; and wrestling, the bear is second to none,” Stempniewicz, who has actually operated in the Arctic for more than 50 years, composed in an e-mail.
Individual bears like this one can find out distinct habits, Derocher states, and they acquire whatever works. “I would bet that that bear comes back year after year to the Polish station at Hornsund and will keep trying to do the same thing,” Derocher states. Sure enough, scientists saw the very same bear at the water’s edge with another reindeer carcass 1 day after the first hunt. Seemingly still packed, it left the majority of the 2nd kill for the foxes and gulls.
Having progressed without predators, the around 20,000 reindeer that live on Svalbard are attracting victim. Polar bears might supplement their diet plans with reindeer in the summertime when sea ice is low, Stempniewicz states.
“We could view this as a little piece of good news, at least for the local polar bears,” states Steven Amstrup, primary researcher at Polar Bears International. But he worries that brand-new hunting habits on land will not comprise for the loss of the sea ice environment where polar bears progressed. “It’s a really interesting observation, and it may have some near-term value for some number of bears,” Amstrup states, “but in the long run, I can’t imagine that it’s really going to be the salvation of polar bears.”