Population Ecology

, Volume 56, Issue 1, pp 129–138 | Cite as

Polar bear predatory behaviour reveals seascape distribution of ringed seal lairs

  • Nicholas W. Pilfold
  • Andrew E. Derocher
  • Ian Stirling
  • Evan Richardson
Original article


Ringed seal (Pusa hispida) breeding distribution has been extensively studied across near-shore habitats, but has received limited attention at a seascape scale due to the difficulty in accessing offshore sea ice environments. Employing highly visible predation attempts by polar bears (Ursus maritimus) on ringed seals in subnivean lairs observed by helicopter, the spatial relationship between predatory behaviour and ringed seal breeding habitat was examined. Resource selection functions were used to determine the relative probability of predation attempts on ringed seals in lairs as a function of habitat during a period of low ringed seal natality (2004–2006). Ringed seal pup kill locations were compared between years of low (2003–2006) and high (2007–2011) natality to assess the effect of reproductive output on habitat use. During years of low natality, polar bear hunting attempts were more likely in near-shore fast ice, and pup kills were observed predominately in fast ice (fast = 65 %, pack = 29 %, P = 0.002) at a median distance of 36 km from shore. In years of high natality, pup kills were observed farther from shore (median = 46 km, P = 0.03), and there was no difference in the proportion of observations in fast ice and pack ice (fast = 43 %, pack = 52 %, P = 0.29). These results suggest that the facultative use of adjacent offshore pack ice by breeding ringed seals may be influenced by natality. This study illustrates how documenting the behaviour of a predator can facilitate insight into the distribution of a cryptic prey.


Cryptic Predation Pusa hispida Reproduction Sea ice Ursus maritimus 



We thank Dr. Christian Haas for securing SAR imagery. Dennis Andriashek, Marie Auger-Méthé, Seth Cherry, Stephen Hamilton, Alysa McCall, Jodie Pongracz, Vicki Sahanatien, Greg Thiemann, and Mike Woodcock assisted with field sampling. We gratefully acknowledge the financial and logistic support from ArcticNet, Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Canadian Wildlife Federation, Canadian Circumpolar Institute’s Boreal Alberta Research, Environment Canada, Inuvialuit Game Council, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Northern Scientific Training Program of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Northwest Territories Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Polar Continental Shelf Project, Polar Bears International, Quark Expeditions, United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior, and World Wildlife Fund (Canada & International).

Supplementary material

10144_2013_396_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (83 kb)
Supplementary material (PDF 83 kb)


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Copyright information

© The Society of Population Ecology and Springer Japan 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas W. Pilfold
    • 1
  • Andrew E. Derocher
    • 1
  • Ian Stirling
    • 1
    • 2
  • Evan Richardson
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Wildlife Research DivisionScience and Technology Branch, Environment CanadaEdmontonCanada

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