Wildlife & Biodiversity

Polar bears feed on dolphins as the Arctic warms

According to scientists, global warming is driving the dolphins north, where the bears are feeding on them for the first time

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 17 June 2014


Norwegian scientists have come across polar bears feasting on dolphins in the Arctic for the first time and blame global warming for the bears expanding their diet, according to news reports.

Polar bears mainly feed on seals, but Jon Aars, a research scientist at the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI), has photographed dolphins being devoured by a bear and published his findings in the latest edition of Polar Research, an international journal, this month.

“It is likely that new species are appearing in the diet of polar bears due to climate change because new species are finding their way north,” he was quoted by the AFP as saying.

The finding

Aars’ team first came upon a polar bear feeding on the carcasses of two white-beaked dolphins in April 2014 at Raudfjorden on the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. 

Although dolphins are regularly seen in the Norwegian Arctic during the summer months when the ice melts, they have never been observed during winter or spring when the sea is usually still covered by sheets of ice.

But Norwegian scientists have reported a strong retreat of ice and two nearly ice-free winters in recent years which they said could have attracted the dolphins further north, where they probably became trapped by the sudden arrival of dense ice blown into a fjord by strong northerly winds.

In Aars’ photos, a visibly skinny old male bear is seen devouring one of the dolphins and appeared to have stored a second one under the snow for later.

After the first incident in 2014, a further five cases of dolphins stranded or captured and then eaten by bears have been reported.

“It’s just that the polar bear is coming into contact with species they have not been used to meeting until now,” Aars added.

Sitting at the top of the Arctic food chain, polar bears are opportunistic predators and are also known to feed on small whales if the opportunity arises.


White-beaked dolphins trapped in the ice and eaten by polar bears

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.