Original Paper

Polar Biology

, 29:997

First online:

Recent observations of intraspecific predation and cannibalism among polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea

  • Steven C. AmstrupAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center Email author 
  • , Ian StirlingAffiliated withCanadian Wildlife Service
  • , Tom S. SmithAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center
  • , Craig PerhamAffiliated withU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • , Gregory W. ThiemannAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Dalhousie University

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Intraspecific killing has been reported among polar bears (Ursus maritimus), brown bears (U. arctos), and black bears (U. americanus). Although cannibalism is one motivation for such killings, the ecological factors mediating such events are poorly understood. Between 24 January and 10 April 2004, we confirmed three instances of intraspecific predation and cannibalism in the Beaufort Sea. One of these, the first of this type ever reported for polar bears, was a parturient female killed at her maternal den. The predating bear was hunting in a known maternal denning area and apparently discovered the den by scent. A second predation event involved an adult female and cub recently emerged from their den, and the third involved a yearling male. During 24 years of research on polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea region of northern Alaska and 34 years in northwestern Canada, we have not seen other incidents of polar bears stalking, killing, and eating other polar bears. We hypothesize that nutritional stresses related to the longer ice-free seasons that have occurred in the Beaufort Sea in recent years may have led to the cannibalism incidents we observed in 2004.