Polar Bear Observed Eating Dolphin, Freezing Portion for Later

Polar Bear Study
A polar bear covers his food for later, a new mannerism observed in the species by researchers. Jon Aars/Norwegian Polar Institute

For the first time, a polar bear has been observed eating a dolphin. The bear was spotted in the Norwegian High Arctic in April 2014, though the findings were just published this week in a scientific journal.

Researchers observed the polar bear, an adult male, eating two white-beaked dolphins. The researchers went on to observe at least six other polar bears scavenging on dolphin carcasses.

The scientists believe global warming is linked to this change in polar bear food choices. "The warming of the Arctic is signficantly changing the ecosystem and relations between species," the researchers wrote in the journal.

Usually, these dolphins only travel to this part of the Arctic in the summer, when it's warmer, and until 2014 had not been found that far north so early in the spring. "We suggest [the dolphins] were trapped in the ice after strong northerly winds the days before, and possibly killed when forced to surface for air at a small opening in the ice," the researchers wrote. The polar bear observed eating a dolphin was very skinny, the researchers noted. Its ribs were visible.

In addition to this unusual behavior, the researchers observed a polar bear saving his dolphin for later by covering it with snow. "The dolphin was only partially covered with snow, but the bear was in the process of covering it when we arrived," Jon Aars, a researcher, told Newsweek. "I thus think it would have been covered with snow, had we got there later. The bear would remember and recognize the site, my guess is he would go and rest somewhere not too far away for a day or two, and then be back if the dolphin had not been found and eaten by other bears, foxes or gulls."

Brown bears are known for hiding their food and arctic foxes have been observed engaging in a similar behavior, but this act is unusual among polar bears.