Polar bears, nature’s answer to voracious hot-dog champ Takeru Kobayashi if he weighed a thousand pounds and sported two-inch-long claws, now prey on dolphins. Bleak.
Researchers at the Norwegian Polar Institute observed, for the first time, a “very skinny” polar bear eating a white-beaked dolphin last April. In the journal Polar Research, they report that the bears subsequently preyed on dolphins five more times over the summer at Raudfjorden, a fjord off of the Norwegian coast.
That the bears have a new palate for dolphins is an example of how climate change is reshaping the world’s ecosystems, the scientists say. “As the polar bear habitat shrinks in coming decades, scientists anticipate reductions in where polar bears are observed, and these changes are predicted to be significant in the Svalbard and Barents Sea area,” they wrote. “ An increase of white-beaked dolphins in areas where the sea ice shifts northward may, given the significant size of these animals, offer a new prey or carrion food source to bears in an environment where access to ringed seals and bearded seals may decline in future years.”
Dolphins are traditionally seen near Raudfjorden in the late summer months, but the lack of ice in spring may be why they swam north as early as April. As the oceans heat up, marine mammals and fish relocate to seas further from the equator.
Polar bears have been hit particularly hard by climate change, too. Not only are they adapting to new food sources, they’re moving south as ice floes disappear. One result: mating with grizzlies to create grolar bears.