Polar bear hunting for Ringed Seal
We had the pleasure to watch a young male Polar bear hunting for Ringed seal in Svalbard. Sadly for us it was unsuccessful, but it was great watching it use different hunting strategies.
Polar bear mainly survive by hunting seals and Ringed seal blubber is their favorite food. You can often see them stalk seals on the ice staying motionless at breathing holes. They prefer the energy-rich fat and leave the rest for other animals, like Arctic foxes and Gulls, when there is plentiful food.
If they get trapped on land they can forage for plants, but they can’t ‘survive’ on a meager diet for long. At meager times they have to use their fat reserve and might enter a state called walking hibernation. In this state, their bodies recycle nitrogen. This means they don’t have to urinate and can conserve water, as well as maintain muscle mass. Still, they can remain slightly active and maintain body temperature, as opposed to more typical, sleep-like hibernation.
Different methods of hunting
The Polar bear have a small head and long neck if we compare them with their land-living cousins. It is an adaptation that makes it easier for them to swim, but also make it easier for them to put their head into holes looking for prey.
This was seen on a couple of occasions and at one point the Polar bear were more or less completely inside a Ringed seal birth lair.
We witnessed the waiting game, still hunting, as well as the pounce when it tried to get inside a Ringed seal birth lair with brute force. They say that Polar bears have such a good smell that they can smell prey that is almost a kilometer away and up to a meter under compact snow.
Polar bears aren’t white
We watched how the young male hunted for Ringed seal pups for a couple of hours. It pushed its head into different holes and if the head got wet we could see that a Polar bear actually have black skin.
Their fur is made up of two layers. An outer layer with long clear ‘guard’ hairs and a thick undercoat with shorter hair. The clear fur allows sunlight to get to the black skin that absorb the sun energy.
The fur actually looks white due to luminescence. This happens when the sun’s rays bounce off the transparent ‘guard’ hair, and some of the light energy travels into the hair, getting trapped. The energy bounces around inside the hollow part of the hair, causing the reaction known as luminescence, which involves the emission of light.
Like I said before it was unsuccessful in its attempts. Instead, it went back to remains from a previous hunt. I do think this was leftovers from a different Polar bear, a big male that our youngster followed. It was funny to witness how it played with the spine of the Ringed seal at times. It did find some bits and pieces to eat and we also had an Arctic fox scavenging at the kill.
At times it looked like it cuddled with the leftovers. Once it even proudly walked away with a bone. It really looked full of itself at that time.
It was great fun to stay with this youngster. He was curious and active making him a good photo model.
Please have a look at the photo album for more pictures of our meeting with the young male. More pictures from my latest Arctic expedition is found at Svalbard 2018