Climate change and humans are driving polar bears to cannibalism. A Russian scientist reveals the animals are feeding on each other in the Arctic as melting ice and fossil fuel extraction destroys their habit.
Ice levels are falling due to rising temperatures and industrial companies are moving into the area -forcing polar bears out of their traditional hunting grounds or on to the shore areas where food is scarce.
The rise in cannibalism incidents, according to the researcher, could also be due in part to an increase in human activity in the Arctic who are there to witness the horrific events.
‘Cases of cannibalism among polar bears are a long-established fact, but we’re worried that such cases used to be found rarely while now they are recorded quite often,’ Mordvintsev told Interfax news agency, AFP reported.
‘We state that cannibalism in polar bears is increasing.’
He believes these animals are turning on each other because their food supply is scarce – large males are attacking females and cubs because they are easy targets and mothers are eating their babies.
Their dwindling food sources is being blamed on the climate crisis, as ice levels in the Arctic have decreased at least by 40 percent over the last 25 years.
Polar bears use sea ice to hunt seals swimming in the waters, but with a lack of ice the are being forced onto shore where they cannot hunt as usual and it is harder to find the nutrients needed to survive.
Also to blame are humans who are setting up shop in the bears’ homes for fossil fuel extraction.
This winter the area from the Gulf of Ob to the Barents Sea, where polar bears used to hunt, is now a busy route for ships carrying LNG (liquefied natural gas), Mordvintsev said.
‘The Gulf of Ob was always a hunting ground for the polar bear. Now it has broken ice all year round,’ he continued, linking this change to active gas extraction on the huge Yamal peninsula bordering the Gulf of Ob, and the launch of an Arctic LNG plant.’
Another Russian scientist, Vladimir Sokolov, who has led numerous expeditions with the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, based in St Petersburg, said that this year polar bears had been mainly affected by abnormally warm weather on Spitsbergen Island to the north, in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, where there had been no ice floes and little snow.
A separate study, released this week, found that polar bears also hoard the bodies of their kills by burying them in the dirt and snow so they can retrieve them at a later date.
The behavior, called caching, is relatively common in other bear species, especially brown bears, from which polar bears evolved around 500,000 years ago.
It is exceptionally rare among polar bears, but Ian Stirling of the University of Alberta and the Scientific Advisory Council for Polar Bears decided to investigate after receiving an intriguing photo from a friend.
Why do Polar Bears Need Ice to Survive
Loss of ice due to climate change has a direct impact on the ability of polar bears to feed and survive.
The bears need platforms of ice to reach their prey of ringed and bearded seals. Some sea ice lies over more productive hunting areas than others.
Like other predators at the top of the food chain, polar bears have a low reproductive rate. One or two cubs are born in midwinter and stay with their mother for two years.
Consequently, females breed only every three years. The bears don’t reproduce until they are five or six years old.
From late fall until spring, mothers with new cubs den in snowdrifts on land or on pack ice. They emerge from their dens, with the new cubs, in the spring to hunt seals from floating sea ice.
Simply put, if there isn’t enough sea ice, seals can’t haul out on the ice, and polar bears can’t continue to hunt.
End of summer measurements of sea ice in the Arctic in September revealed that the region has hit the eighth lowest extent in modern record keeping.
Satellite data showed the Arctic reached its yearly lowest extent on September 13, at 1.79 million square miles (4.64 million square kilometres).
While the Arctic hits its summertime minimum around this time every year, the experts say the extent has been decreasing rapidly as a result of climate change, seeing dramatic declines since the late 1970s.
This article was first published by The Mail Online on 28 February 2020.
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