The Conversation: Climate Change Turned Polar Bears into Opportunists

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

According to PHD student Henry Anderson-Elliott, the uptick in photos of polar bears scavenging trash dumps or hunting land animals is likely because of climate change.

Polar bears eating reindeer: normal behaviour or result of climate change?

December 30, 2021 10.53pm AEDT

Henry Anderson-Elliott
PhD, University of Cambridge

Recently, scientists in Hornsund, Svalbard – a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic ocean – witnessed a polar bear pursuing a reindeer into the sea before killing it, dragging it ashore and eating it. The video that they captured was widely shared on news and social media platforms. Then, two days later, they saw the same bear beside a second fresh reindeer kill. 

Their observations are the first detailed account of a complete and successful polar bear hunt of a Svalbard reindeer. But they follow 13 previous reports of polar bears preying and scavenging on reindeer on the same archipelago between 1983 and 1999.

From stalking and chasing Canadian caribou, fishing for Arctic char and catching geese and rodents to grazing on vegetation and patrolling human refuse sites, polar bears can eat, have eaten and have tried to eat many things.

But the viability of these onshore food sources is doubtful as a long-term strategy. In their study of foraging on the eider duck nests of Mitvik island, Canada, researchers found polar bears to be inefficient predators of seabird eggs, such that the energy an individual bear gains from eggs may be less than previously thought. That’s because they may use more energy to find the eggs than they get from eating them. Equally, other studies have found that the consumption of terrestrial food by polar bears has been insufficient to compensate for reduced hunting opportunities out on the ice. 

Therefore, increasing reports of summer scavenging, foraging and terrestrial hunting are unsurprising in the context of climate change, high energy stress and the resulting effect on their bodies. 

Therefore, observations like those in Hornsund reinforce the need for further peer-reviewed research on the future of this iconic species. This single event should not be seen as definitive proof of shifting diets in a warmer world, but as a reminder of the spectacular creatures we stand to lose. A species whose fate, even in the distant reaches of their Arctic landscape, is inexorably bound to our own.’

Read more:

Here I was thinking Polar Bears were opportunistic Arctic omnivores, but this is clearly not the case. We have shamefully corrupted this noble green icon with our wickedness.

No doubt before climate change, if a Polar Bear saw a human rubbish dump full of smelly old meat, it would have turned its nose up at the unworthy human refuse, and continued on to its traditional seal hunting ground. Pristine polar bears would never do something as demeaning as eating our trash.

Do I need a /sarc tag?


Article Rating

via Watts Up With That?

December 31, 2021 at 08:41PM

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