Bears have been seen catching and eating dolphins for the first time ever, after the marine mammals were left stuck in the Arctic Ocean because of global warming.
It marks the first time that bears have been seen killing and eating dolphins. Usually, the dolphins only go up north during the warmer summer — but this year they have arrived in spring.
The bears catch the dolphins in a similar way to the seals that they usually eat. Both animals keep holes in the ice which they use to come up and breathe from — at which point, if the bear is lucky, it will snatch them up and eat them.
The researchers observed the behaviour for the first time last year. At least six different bears have been seen eating the dolphins since then, scientists write in a new report, ‘White-beaked dolphins trapped in the ice and eaten by polar bears’.
After eating the dolphin, the bear seemed to cover it with ice so that it could be kept for later. Such behaviour is rare in polar bears, and could be a result of the animals not having enough to eat.
The authors of the study describe the bear as having “clearly visible ribs” and being “very skinny”.
The habitat of polar bears is shrinking drastically as the Arctic warms. As such, scientists expect to be able to observe them much less in the coming years.
The same global warming appears to be trapping the dolphins, leaving them stuck and so able to be caught by the bears.
“We suggest [the dolphins] were trapped in the ice after strong northerly winds the days before, and possibly killed when forced to surface for air at a small opening in the ice,” the authors of the study write. White-beaked dolphins tend to travel north to Svalbard during the warmer summer, but haven’t been reported so far north in the early Spring.
Usually, the Svalbard fjords and coast is covered by ice. But in the winter of 2013 and 2014, when the dolphins and bears were first seen together, they were ice free.
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