Short Note

Polar Biology

, Volume 38, Issue 8, pp 1301-1304

First online:

Longest recorded underwater dive by a polar bear

  • Ian StirlingAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences and Wildlife Research Division, Environment Canada, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta Email author 
  • , Rinie van MeursAffiliated with

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Abstract

The maximum dive duration for a wild polar bear (Ursus maritimus) of any age is unknown, and opportunities to document long dives by undisturbed bears are rare. We describe the longest dive reported to date, by a wild undisturbed adult male polar bear. This dive was made during an aquatic stalk of three bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus) lying several meters from each other at the edge of an annual ice floe. The bear dove for a total duration of 3 min 10 s and swam 45–50 m without surfacing to breathe or to reorient itself to the locations of the seals. The duration of this dive may be approaching its maximum capability. Polar bears diverged from brown bears (Ursus arctos) about 4–500,000 years ago, which is recent in evolutionary terms. Thus, it is possible that the ability to hold its breath for so long may indicate the initial development of a significant adaptation for living and hunting in its marine environment. However, increased diving ability cannot evolve rapidly enough to compensate for the increasing difficulty of hunting seals because of the rapidly declining availability of sea ice during the open-water period resulting from climate warming.

Keywords

Polar bear Ursus maritimus Dive duration Hunting Aquatic stalk