January 29, 2014
Polar Bears Adapt to Warmer Arctic by Eating Snow Goose Eggs
By Phil Bourjaily
Arctic ice is melting sooner in the spring, driving polar bears to dry land earlier in the year. Unable to prey on seals, the bears are finding other sources of food: goose eggs. The bears are now coming ashore during the nesting season of the many waterfowl that breed around Hudson Bay.
As the video shows, the white bears have become adept at nest robbing and snow goose eggs are among their new favorite foods. A nest holds four to five eggs, and researchers say 88 goose eggs contain the same amount of protein as one seal. Bears raid other nests as well, including sea ducks like eiders and other birds that nest in the tundra around Hudson Bay.
Researchers still don’t know if eggs will become a major part of the bears' diet. If so, increased predation on snow goose nests could benefit the ecosystem. Snow geese are overpopulating and overfeeding their breeding grounds and destroying large patches of tundra. Special spring hunting seasons and regulations (no plugs, no limits, electronic callers) have not reached the desired reductions in numbers. Perhaps a combination of hunting and nest predation will bring goose numbers back into line with the carrying capacity of the tundra.
While polar bears seem to be adapting to a new source of protein, scientists caution that the bears still need to go out on the ice and catch seals during the colder months. If the arctic ice continues to melt the bears will be in trouble no matter how many nests they find on dry land.