As the Arctic warms, dolphins are finding their way further north where they are becoming an unexpected new food source for polar bears.
Climate change has many unexpected consequences, including, it seems, affecting dietary habits of certain species. Jon Aars, a scientist at the Norwegian Polar Institute, recently observed a polar bear feeding on dolphins rather than its usual fare of seal. It was a first for the researcher, who has now published his findings in #link:http://www.polarresearch.net/index.php/polar:Polar Research#.
Aars witnessed and documented the phenomenon in a small fjord in Svalbard in the Norwegian high arctic. It is the white-beaked dolphins the bear was devouring are common in the area during the summer months, it is rare to see them so far north in early spring.
“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,” Aars told AFP in an interview. He says the dolphins had probably become trapped under the ice after strong winds the previous day, and had to come up for air at a small opening in the ice, making the easy prey for the hungry predator.
Polar bears are known as opportunistic scavengers who adapt their diet according to what's available. As with the dolphins, they sometimes prey on small whales that are trapped under the ice. But it wasn't only the prey that was unusual in this case. Although the polar bear caught two dolphins, it was only eating one, and had tried to bury the other.
"We think he tried to cover the dolphin in snow in the hope that other bears, foxes or birds would have less of a chance of finding it. Maybe to be able to eat it a day or two later, once he had digested the first one," said Aars, adding that such behavior is atypical for the species.
During his continued research, the scientist recorded several other polar bears eating dolphin carcasses in the same area.