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From Seals to Goose Eggs: Polar Bears Forced to Change Their Diet Because of Melting Sea Ice

May 17, 2017 11:38 AM EDT
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Polar Bears
Polar bears are losing their advantage over seals, so they are turning to eggs.
(Photo : Alexandra Beier/Getty Images)

Polar bears are changing their diet due to the changing environment. Instead of their favored seal, the bears are turning to goose eggs for nutrition.

According to a report from New Scientist, the higher temperature in the Arctic is melting the sea ice, resulting in a constantly changing coastline that has made it difficult for polar bears to hunt for seals.

Led by Charmaine Hamilton of the Norwegian Polar Institute, a team of researchers studied the movements of polar bears and seals before and after the drastic decline of sea ice in 2006. This event altered the coastal areas in the archipelago Svalbard. The research included tracking 60 ringed seals and 67 polar bears.

In stable sea ice, polar bears hold a significant advantage over seals by stalking or "still hunting." Today, when much of the ice are broken, the massive creatures are suddenly at a disadvantage. They must now swim silently and undetected, then explode out of the water to grab seals on the floating blocks of ice. This isn't a particularly reliable method of hunting.

"It seems that currently, it is mainly large, male bears using this aquatic hunting method on Svalbard," Hamilton explained. "It is likely [to be] more energetically demanding than the traditional hunting methods."

Bears have also been shown retreating from the coastline and closer to bird nesting grounds. This suggests that eggs have become a food source for them, which in turn can be devastating to bird populations.

"I have seen the diarrhoea faeces of bears eating eggs," University of Groningen's Maarten Loonen said. "I think eggs are not their best favourite food. Too much protein. Nevertheless, they have to eat something and they probably can survive on it."

There's no telling if the polar bears will be able to survive on eggs in the long run, though.

The study was published in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

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