Polar bears eating dolphins photographed for the first time
Monday, June 15, 2015, 8:05 AM - Polar bears have been spotted feeding on dolphins in the Arctic for the first time on record -- and global warming may be to blame.
In April 2014, researchers in the Norwegian High Arctic witnessed a male adult polar bear prey on two white-beaked dolphins. The bear was seen devouring one dolphin, before burying the other, likely saving it for later.
Scientists have found at least seven other dolphin carcasses since then, which they believe were all the victims of polar bears on Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.
"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," Jon Aars, one of the researchers at the Norwegian Polar Institute, told Associated Free Press.
Dolphins typically migrate farther north during the summer months when waters are warmer and free of ice and are often spotted in the Arctic throughout the season.
After a mild and virutally ice-free winter in 2014, experts believe a pod of dolphins headed north earlier than normal.
Once there, the dolphins were likely trapped by a sudden arrival of strong northerly winds and the formation of ice, trapping them in the polar bear's domain. When the dolphins come to the water's surface for air, a polar bear could easily pluck one from the water.
Climate change has also been fingered as a reason behind retreating ice sheets, which have diminished seal habitats, a staple in the polar bears diet. If there are no seals to be found, the great white beasts will quickly find a hearty substitute.
While images of the polar bear feast may seem grisly, they offer a glimpse into the circle of life.
The addition of dolphin to the polar bear menu is only mildly surprising as far as experts are concerned.
'I don't think that this signifies a great upheaval' in the diet of the carnivores, said Aars. 'It's just that the polar bear is coming into contact with species they have not been used to meeting until now.'
Reigning at the top of the Arctic food chain, polar bears are opportunistic predators that have been known to prey on small whales if necessary.
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