Not that long ago we heard of Polar Bears drowning because they had to make longer swims to find food, now they are turning to cannibalism and have been seen eating their own young.
Not many people realize that the land of the polar bear is not land at all. They live in a world that is mostly ice. They need the ice covering the northern extremes to reach their feeding grounds. No ice they cannot reach their food source, seals. The small areas of land where they do live, Northern Canada and Norway, for example, offers no food for them, other than other bears.
Scientists who have studied the bears have never seen acts of cannibalism until now. A report in the Toronto Sun (Nov 28, 2009) indicates that between four to eight cases of cannibalism in these magnificent animals have been observed by tour operators and scientists. Typically adult males were observed eating young animals.
Biologist Ian Stirling, who has never seen a case of cannibalism in his first 30 years of studying the bears found these numbers alarming, and even more of a call for awareness of environmental problems which have been plaguing the bears for some time. He has been witnessing rare acts of cannibalism for the past 5 years, with this years numbers being particularly staggering.
The bears spend their summer on land, and lose up to 30% of their body mass, living off their fat reserves, as they await the fall and winter freeze up, which renews access to their hunting grounds. A freeze up which normally started in October and was pretty much a guaranteed thing by early November, still has not occurred this (2009) December.
Typically it is the larger males killing, and eating, the younger animals, and in some cases even adult females. Some times the cause of death is unknown but in the past these bears would not have turned to eating their own kind.
Polar Bears have long been the poster child for global warming. Stories like this might make them less cute in the publics eye, but it should serve as a warning of a crisis.
Nay-sayers of global warming often point out colder than usual temperatures in their area, failing to realize that temperature shifts are part of the problem, and that it is not colder up north where it should be.
As a note, the population of the Polar Bear was estimated at 50,000 in the 1950’s and is currently estimated at 20,000-25,000. They are the most carnivorous of the bear family.