- A boatload of tourists in the far eastern Russian Arctic thought they were seeing clumps of ice on the shore, before the jaw-dropping realisation that some 200 polar bears were roaming on the mountain slope.
- The bears had come to feast on the carcass of a bowhead whale that washed ashore, later resting around the food source. The crowd included many families, including two mothers trailed by a rare four cubs each.
- Climate change means ice, where polar bears are most at home, is melting earlier in the year and so polar bears have to spend longer on land, scientists say.
- This might wow tourists but means the bears, more crammed together on coasts and islands, will eventually face greater competition for the little food there is on land.
- Locals are also at risk from hungry animals venturing into villages.
- Changing ice conditions could also be responsible for the increasing number of bears flocking there.
- Ice is key as polar bears hunt exclusively on the ice surface, often staking out seals by their breathing holes.
- The polar bear population in the shared US-Russian Chukchi Sea “appears to be productive and healthy” at the moment, but as time spent on land continues to increase, the bears’ nutrition and body condition will be affected.
- Wrangel Island, off the coast of Russia’s Chukotka in the northeast, is where polar bears rest after ice melts in early-August until November, when they can leave land to hunt for seals.
- It is also considered the birthing centre for the species, with the highest density of maternity dens in the entire Arctic.
Nothing can replace seals:
- Despite some food sources on land – including musk oxen, lemmings, or even grass – nothing can completely replace the energy-packed seals that bears have evolved to rely on.
- That made the image of hundreds of bears around the whale carcass both impressive and concerning.