Cases of polar bears hunting and killing each other are increasing in the Arctic, as ice melting and human activity erodes their habitat, according to an expert from Russia.
Ice levels are dropping because of rising temperatures and industrial companies are expanding into the region-forcing polar bears out of their usual hunting grounds or into shore areas where food is scarce.
“Cases of cannibalism among polar bears are a long-established fact, but we are concerned that such cases used to be rarely found while they are reported quite frequently now,” said Ilya Mordvintsev, an expert on polar bears.
Mordvintsev indicated the actions might be due to food shortages. “There’s not enough food in some seasons and the large males harass the females with cubs.”
The spike in cases might also be due in part to more people working in the Arctic who report such behaviour, he said. “Now we’re not only getting information from scientists, but also from the growing number of oil workers and employees of the defense ministry.”
Polar bears utilize sea ice to target seals floating in the ocean, but with a scarcity of ice, they are pushed onto the shore where they can’t hunt as normal.
The Gulf of Ob had always been a polar bear hunting ground. It’s now broken ice throughout the year, “he said, linking this transition to active gas extraction on the huge Yamal peninsula bordering the Gulf of Ob, and the start of an Arctic LNG project.
Another Russian scientist, Vladimir Sokolov, who has led multiple excursions with the St. Petersburg-based Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, said that this year polar bears were primarily affected by warmer than usual weather on Spitsbergen Island to the north, in the Svalbard archipelago in Norway, where there were no ice floes and little snow.
Russian researchers have noticed significant numbers of polar bears moving away as ice melts due to climate change from their usual hunting grounds.
Caching behavior is relatively common in other species of bears, especially brown bears, from which polar bears evolved approximately 500,000 years ago.
Russians living in Arctic settlements have sounded alarm over dozens of bears coming into areas where people now live, particularly to raid food waste dumps.