Friendship between polar bears and walrus | Polarjournal
In search of food, a polar bear observes the walrus colony from a safe distance. (Foto: Rosamaria Kubny)

Scientists have observed polar bears on the Taimyr Peninsula in recent years and have noticed changes in their usual behavior, said Pavel Kochkaryov, director of the Central Siberian Reserve in the Krasnoyarsk region. For example, polar bears have begun to invade the colonies of walruses on the shores of the Laptev Sea and Kara Sea. Walruses no longer show fear when polar bears are in the immediate vicinity of the colony.

In case of danger, walruses escape into the water, so they cannot be reached by predators and are thus safe. (Foto: Heiner Kubny)

“The walruses seem to be doing well. On our last visit we saw five polar bears in the colonies. One of them sat in the middle, surrounded by walruses. I even had the impression that a walrus was lying on the bear’s side. We are witnessing a more pronounced symbiosis between “shepherd bears” and “sheep” walruses. We were really surprised to see five bears guarding a large resting place with about 400 walruses,” Kochkaryov said. The polar bears feed on dead walruses and therefore behave like real keepers of the Arctic.

Ivan Mizin, deputy director of research in Russia’s Arctic National Park, added that polar bears often struggle to fight giant walruses. The danger of being injured by a defending walrus explains that polar bears choose a different tactic. In many cases, it is easier for polar bears to wait for a walrus to die of a natural death.

“In principle, this is a normal survival strategy, as there are many dead animals in large colonies with several thousand walruses, but a bear will always attack a smaller walrus whenever possible,” he added.

No stress when looking for food for polar bears. In large walrus colonies like the one of Vankarem there are always dead walruses. (Photo: Heiner Kubny

Polar bears in summer are increasingly on land

Climate change and the decline of sea ice in the Arctic do not make it easy for the king of the Arctic to take up his natural habitat. The ever-melting ice makes it difficult for polar bears to find food, as bears usually hunt seals on the ice floes. Now, in the warm season, they stay ashore and do not migrate north with the ice. Pavel Kochkarev, director of the Central Siberian Nature Reserve, who had recently returned from an expedition to the Taimyr Peninsula, spoke about it. According to the reserve’s director, the fact that some polar bears almost never leave the mainland leads to clashes with humans. Sometimes such incidents end tragically.

A emaciated polar bear migrated far from its natural habitat to the industrial city of Norilsk, where he was looking for food. (Photo: Siberian Times)

The extension of the open water period is forcing an increasing number of polar bears to stay on shore for a long time. Occasionally, individual polar bears migrate up to 100 km inland, which may be associated with the search for food. In such cases, conflicts usually arise between a polar bear and humans. This is one of the serious problems – said Leonid Kolpashchikov, head of the scientific department of the Joint Directorate of the Taimyr reserves.

The situation worsens when polar bears come to the villages or to the stations of polar explorers in search of food. Experts say this poses a danger to humans as a hungry bear can be an angry bear.

The researchers note that they still cannot answer many questions about polar bears. There are plans to monitor polar bear populations across the Arctic, and a strategy to save polar bears is also being finalized.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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