Mother Polar Bear, Desperate for Food, Tests Walrus

Published 9 Feb 2018, 09:06 GMT
Mother Polar Bear, Desperate for Food, Tests Walrus

Travis Wilkinson and his family were on a sailing trip in Norway's Svalbard archipelago, far north of the Arctic Circle. In late July, 2015, they were travelling through Hinlopen Strait, west of the largest island, Spitsbergen—an impossible route some summers, when pack ice blocks passage. But that summer, ice was especially sparse, making hunting harder for polar bears. These apex predators favour waiting at the sea ice’s edge, striking seals as they approach.

A few days earlier, the Wilkinson family had been farther north, near the ice. There, bears looked healthy. But the scene just after midnight on July 23 was desperate. Mother and cub were struggling, skin hanging loose. According to Jon Aars, of the Norwegian Polar Institute, the cub, seven or eight months old, was likely to die if its mother didn’t eat soon. She probably wasn’t lactating.

Wilkinson saw the bear sniff the air, picking up something of interest. This thin female couldn’t attack a healthy, full-grown walrus. A carcass would solve their problem. If the walrus were weak or sick, predation might be an option. But that walrus was alive and well. The situation was unworkable. The search for food went on.

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