Thursday, January 12, 2012

Polar Bears Turn Cannibalistic as Climate Change Depletes Arctic Food Supply by Rheana Murray

An adult male polar bear with the carcass of a cub, in the Arctic Ocean, near the Svalbard Archipelago. 

Dwindling Arctic Sea ice is cutting off polar bears’ food supply, forcing the starving animals to devour their own kind.

While cannibalism among polar bears isn’t unheard of, experts say the behavior is becoming increasingly common.

“There are increasing numbers of observations of it occurring,” photojournalist Jenny Ross told BBC News. “Particularly on land where polar bears are trapped ashore, completely food-deprived for extended periods of time due to the loss of sea ice as a result of climate change.”
Ross explained how the higher temperatures melt ice more quickly, leaving the bears less time to fuel up on ice-dependent seals, the animals’ main source of food.

"Weights of adults are decreasing, litters are smaller, fewer young bears are surviving, and the overall population size is shrinking,” she said.

Ross, whose research was published in the January 2012 edition of Ocean Geographic Magazine, described watching a bear guard its kill, a cub.

“As soon as the adult male became aware that a boat was approaching him, he basically stood to my attention — he straddled the young bear’s body, asserting control over it and conveying ‘this is my food,’” she recalled to BBC News.

“He then picked up the bear in his jaws and, just using the power of his jaws and his neck, transported it from one floe to another.

“And eventually, when he was a considerable distance away, he stopped and fed on the carcass.”

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