Alternative food sources

With the ice gone on the west coast of Spitsbergen for most of the year, bears have to find alternative food sources. They might be able to grab a seal or two that is hauled out on a piece of ice near a glacier, but that isn’t easy. So they try something different.

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Mother and two cubs Polar Bear feeding on Barnacle Geese eggs – 600mm, 1/400s, f/8.0, ISO500

Early in the season, they have such a food source: eggs. Barnacle Geese and Common Eider breed on small islands in front of the coast to prevent predation by Arctic Fox. These animals don’t like to swim too much in the frigid waters, so the birds used to be safe there. But of course, this doesn’t help against Polar Bears as they are excellent swimmers.

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Polar Bear and Barnacle Geese – 600mm, 1/320s, f/7.1, ISO500

When I studied in Ny Ålesund, now almost 20 years ago, there were hardly any Polar Bears seen in Kongsfjord. In those days we saw many geese breeding on the islands in the inner parts of the fjord, and later feeding in town with their goslings. Nowadays the story is a lot different. This year around 4000 eggs of Barnacle Geese and Common Eiders were eaten by several bears, amongst which this family. And it is not the first year this happens. The goose numbers have dropped quite dramatically (also due to increased predation by Arctic Foxes during the chick-rearing stage), and only a few families are seen in the village. For the bears, this is a welcome relief, but just for a short period of time of course. Soon, all eggs will be eaten or have hatched, and there will be nothing left for the bears.

 

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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