A sad fate has indeed fallen upon polar bears: these beautiful, majestic creatures are being forced to resort to cannibalism, a disturbing fact for a species that normally does not feast on its own cubs.
In July 2010, photojournalist Jenny E. Ross witnessed a polar bear killing a cub with a few sharp bites to its head. The bear then proceeded to consume the young cub. When the predator bear spotted a nearby boat, he became very protective of his meal. This eyewitness account was published in a BBC News account of the incident.
While cannibalism isn’t completely unheard of among polar bears, instances of its occurrence have been on the rise over the last few years, due to global warming and climate changes causing the sea ice to melt, trapping the great beasts on land for extended periods of time with no access to food. Under normal circumstances, polar bears live off of seals, which they hunt by traveling over the iced-over Hudson Bay. As a direct result of global warming, the Arctic sea ice has been receding during the summer months, taking much longer to freeze over again than it used to.
With no way to hunt seals to keep their bodies nourished, polar bears are being forced to look for alternative sources of food. Sadly, this means turning on their own kind as well as scavenging for human garbage, food scraps, seabirds, and seabird eggs.
However, living off humans’ scraps and trash cannot sustain a polar bear, which is why some are resorting to turning on each other.
Typically, adult male polar bears go after young cubs, as these are easy prey. A few sharp bites to the skull kill the cub; the male then drags the carcass off in order to feed.
The only other time cannibalism has been known to take place among polar bears is when mother bears suspect their cubs are sick. Killing and eating another polar bear is considered unusual behavior but is, sadly, now becoming more common.
With an already rapidly decreasing population, cannibalism among polar bears could prove especially tragic for the species. Being forced to eat their own kind prevents population regrowth, which means the polar bears will continue to die out at an increasing rate.
The future of polar bears is looking bleak, if global warming continues and temperatures continue to rise at the rate they have been, causing polar bears to drown, starve, and even eat their own.