Gruesome Photos Reveal Polar Bears' New Diet Thanks to Climate Change

These grim photos indicate an uncertain future for the Arctic bears.
(Photo: Jon Aars/Norwegian Polar Institute)
Jun 13, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Polar bears are carnivorous creatures, and no matter what animal they consume, the act of eating is likely to be gruesome. But the blood and bones in these pictures aren’t the shocking part—it’s what the bears are eating.

A study conducted in the Svalbard Archipelago of Norway revealed the first recorded instances of polar bears seeking out white-beaked dolphins for prey.

Warming waters have allowed the dolphins to travel north to an area they would normally avoid until summertime.

“It is likely that new species are appearing in the diet of polar bears due to climate change because new species are finding their way north,” study author Jon Aars told Agence France-Presse.

Arctic waters have warmed at a rate twice that of southern waters, putting the ice-loving bears in a bit of bind. Polar bears typically sit atop large chunks of ice to scoop up swimming seals, but without the platform of ice to sit on, the bears have to look elsewhere for food.

Two virtually ice-free winters enticed the dolphins into the Arctic region, where their food has also showed up thanks to warm water. But a sudden influx of ice trapped the dolphins, making them easy prey for hungry polar bears.

(Photo: Samuel Blanc/Norwegian Polar Institute)

The scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute first discovered this eating habit in April 2014 and documented an additional five cases in the following year.

Most of the bears appeared well-fed, although one was visibly thin and found covering a dead dolphin with ice as a means to hide his food source from other animals—another tactic scientists had not yet seen before.

The new food source could be a temporary fix, but it’s unlikely that there are enough dolphins to feed the large population of polar bears. And as the bears were only able to grab the dolphins because of a sudden storm, their consumption could be a fluke.

Polar bears residing in Canada and Alaska have been found traveling north to live in the icy regions they need, but Svalbard is about as far north as it gets before the water becomes too deep to serve as a viable habitat, leaving the bears with nowhere else to go.