Polar bears eating reindeer: normal behavior or a consequence of climate change?

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Recently, scientists from Hornsund, Svalbard – a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean – saw a polar bear chase a reindeer into the sea before killing it, dragging it to shore, and eating it. The video they captured was shared widely on news and social media platforms. Then, two days later, they saw the same bear next to a second freshly killed reindeer.

Their sightings are the first detailed account of a complete and successful polar bear hunt by a Svalbard reindeer. But they follow 13 previous reports of polar bears preying on and feeding on reindeer on the same archipelago between 1983 and 1999.

These are far from the first reports of polar bears varying their diet. Normally, during the months when the sea is frozen, they enjoy a diet of offshore seals. But their use of additional food sources during the leaner summer months has been known for decades, with the bears gorging on seabird eggs and feeding at the Churchill Landfill (a recycling and recycling facility). garbage) in Hudson Bay. Yet, similar reports of terrestrial feeding have become more common in recent years.

Whether it’s stalking and hunting Canadian caribou, fishing for arctic char, catching geese and rodents, grazing vegetation, and patrolling human landfills, polar bears can eat, have ate and tried to eat a lot of things.

But the viability of these onshore food sources is questionable as a long-term strategy. In their study of foraging for eider duck nests on Mitvik Island, Canada, the researchers found that polar bears were inefficient predators of seabird eggs, so the energy that a bear pulls eggs may be less than previously thought.

This is because they can use more energy to find the eggs than they get from eating them. Likewise, other studies have shown that the consumption of land food by polar bears was insufficient to compensate for the reduced opportunities for hunting on the ice.

The threat of climate change Polar bears have become highly effective predators of marine mammals. They eat a high fat diet and depend on ice-based prey, mainly ringed and bearded seals. As a result, they are deeply threatened by global warming.

As global temperatures rise, Arctic sea ice melts earlier in summer and refreezes later in winter. And as the ice-free periods lengthen, polar bears are spending more time on land without access to their primary food.

Their situation is also worsened by other factors. A recent study found that polar bears have higher energy needs than previously assumed. With less time spent on the pack ice and less seal fat to consume, polar bears will have a harder time meeting their energy needs, resulting in higher death rates. At the same time, higher wind speeds in the Arctic can make seal hunting even more difficult.

Therefore, the growing reports of scavengers, foraging and ground hunting in summer are not surprising against the backdrop of climate change, high energy stress and the resulting effect on their bodies. .

Overwhelmed by publicity The proliferation of digital platforms also plays a role in this story. As Andrew Derocher, professor of biology at the University of Alberta and long-time polar bear expert, explained: “Everyone has a camera” and “the“ news ”spreads quickly”. He rightly pointed out that if the same phenomenon had happened in the 1950s and 1960s, no one probably would have seen it.

In recent years, polar bear photos and videos have garnered enormous attention online. From 56 bears besieging a Russian town to tragic sequences of emaciated individuals, polar bears are used as the face of our climate catastrophe.

While the vast relationship here is undeniable – an ice floe species cannot live in an above-freezing future – polar bears now inhabit a world where their every action is taken as evidence in a larger context. of climate change. Amplified in our digital age, we see bears as the embodiment of our deteriorating global condition.

While their plight is rightly brought to our attention, online content can be misdirected. Focusing on individual bears to illustrate climate issues risks shifting the burden of proof from overwhelming scientific evidence to the lives of isolated animals.

Therefore, sightings like Hornsund’s reinforce the need for further peer-reviewed research into the future of this iconic species. This one-off event should not be taken as definitive proof of changing diets in a warmer world, but as a reminder of the spectacular creatures we risk losing. A species whose fate, even in the confines of their arctic landscape, is inexorably linked to ours.

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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