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Predation of Belugas and Narwhals by Polar Bears in Nearshore Areas of the Canadian High Arctic

Predation of Belugas and Narwhals by Polar Bears in Nearshore Areas of the Canadian High Arctic

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VOL.
43,
NO.
2 (JUNE1990)
P.
99-102
ARCTIC
Predation
of
Belugas and Narwhals by Polar Bearsin Nearshore Areas of the Canadian High Arctic
THOMAS
G.
SMITH' and BECKY SJARE2
(Received
10
April
1989;
accepted in
revisedform
2
August
1989)
ABSTRACT. On 18 August 1988 wefound four narwhals and
wo
dead belugas stranded n a low beach at Creswell Bay, Somerset Island.All ofthe narwhals and
wo
of the belugas ad been attacked and partially eateny polar bears. At Cunningham Inlet, where belugas concentrate n largenumbers, we have noted ten strandings over the
period
1980-88, without bear predation on these occasions. One bear, hunting from an ice floe indeep water at Cunninghamnlet, killed two sub-adult belugasn July 1985. Belugas seem o exhibit curiosity towards swimmingolar bears hat might serve o drive bears out of the area and reduce theisk
of
predation. The potential large summer ood resource for bears epresented byodontocete whales in theigh Arctic Archipelagoeems to
e
underutilized. The timing andocation
of
beluga concentrations re known and datesof probable strandings are somewhat predictable,hich might allow
s
to assess the extent
f
bear predation onwhales in he future.Key words: beluga, narwhal, polar bear, predation,rcticRÉSUMÉ.Le 18auôt 1988, nous avons trouvé quatre narvals, dont deux qui étaient encoreivants, etdeux bélugas échoués ur une plageàa baie de Creswell. Ils avaient été attaquést partiellement dévorés pares ours polaires. A Cunninghamnlet,
se groupe un grandombre de bélugas
à
l'été, nous avons remarquéix échouages durant a période Juin Août de 1980
à
1988. Durant ces incidents, l n'y a eu aucune mortalitéauséepar les
ours
polaires.Un our chassant desorceaux de glace flottant danses eaux rofondesde Cunningham Inlet a tué deuxeaux bélugas n Juillet 1985. Les élugas en groupe demontrent uneuriosité envers les ours blancs qui nagent dansa mer. Ceci orrait servire aloingé les urs et reduire le risque de prédation. Le grand nombre d'odontocé habitantette régionde l'arctique pourrait être uneessource alimentaireestivale importante pour les ours polaires, mais elle est apparamment ous-utilisée. Nous connaissonses saisons et lesendroits d'aggrégation desélugas et les ates probables d'échouage en rapportvec l'amplitudedes marées. eci pourrait nous permettre, danse futur, d'évaleures taux de prédations par les ours polaires.Mots clés: béluga, narval, ur blanc, prédation, ArctiqueINTRODUCTION
Polar bears,
Ursus rnaritirnus,
are large, powerful predatorsthat sometimes attack and kill species such as the walrus,
Odobenus rosrnarus
(KiliaanandStirling, 1978)nd the beardedseal,
Erignathus barbatus
(Stirling and Archibald, 1977; Smith,
1980),
which can be heavier and larger than themselves. Dur-ing the summer polar bears sometimesttempt to take belugas,
Delphinapterus leucas,
in shallow waters, but apparently withvery little success (Smith, 1985). Mostf the reported success-ful kills of belugas are based on sightings of bears feedingon whale carcasses around ice holes
savsatts)
or leads wherethe whales had become entrapped (Freeman, 1973; Lowry
et
al.,
1987).Along the south coasts of Cornwallis and Devon islandsand around Somerset Island in Barrow Strait, belugas andnarwhals,
Monodon
rnonoceros,
are abundant duringuly andAugust. Although ice cover varies from year to year, largeexpanses of open water allow both species access to thenearshore areas. Belugas concentrateinCreswel1ay (72"48'N,93'18'W) and Cunningham Inlet (74"05'N, 93'45'W) (Fig.
1).
Narwhals prefer deeper water than belugas and are fre-quently sighted in considerable umbers somewhat offshorefrom the belugas in Creswell Bay, Prince Regent Inlet andPeel Sound (Smith
et
al.,
1985).Because of the low density of polar bears and the largedistances of uninhabited coastlines where they hunt, thereare few documented accounts of bears killing whales.n 1988we found one area in Creswell Bay where bears had attackedstranded narwhals and belugas (Fig.
1).
At Cunningham Inletbetween 1980 and 1988, we witnessed bears stalking belugas
FIG.
1.
Study area showing main areas of beluga whale concentrations andlocation
of
stranded whales
(---
helicopter flightpath).
in
shallow water and making two successful killsf sub-adultwhales indeeper waters. We describe the hunting strategiesand kibalong with some interactions of polar bears andbelugas in the water.
'Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Arctic Biologicaltation, 555
St.
Pierre Blvd., Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, anada H9X 3R4*Departmentof Zoology, Universityof Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta,Canada
TG
E9
@The Arcticnstitute of North America
 
100
/
T.G.
SMITH
and
B.
SJARE
METHODS
In 1988 opportunistic coastal surveys were made using aBell 206 helicopter flying at heights from 170 to 330 m at140 km/h. Flights paralleled the coastlines approximately500 m offshore, with the forward observer sitting on the leftside and the rear observer on the right side of the helicopter.All whales seen were counted. When bears or carcasses ofwhales were sighted, we circled at low altitude and landed toexamine the kills.Observations of polar bear-beluga interactions were madefrom 1980 to 1988uring the period early July to mid-Augustat Cunningham Inlet on the north coast of Somerset Island.All of the bear sightings were made rom an observation hutlocated 32 m abovesea level on the west side of the inlet. Adetailed description of the study area is given by Sjare andSmith (1986). bservations were aided by the use of Bushnell25 to 40
x
power telescopes and 7
x
35 mm binoculars.
RESULTS
Attacks on Stranded Whales
On
8
August 1988 at Creswell Bay (72"48'N, 93'18'W) oneastern Somerset Island we sighted eight polar bears andseveral whale carcasses from he helicopter. There were twofemale bears with
two
yearling cubs each, two presumedadult male bears, five elugas and four narwhals, includinga neonate. Two of the three adult female narwhals were tillalive (Fig. 2:specimens2 and 4) on dry land approximately200 and 150 m from the ocean. All three adult narwhals boreextensive claw marks and the blubber had been strippeddorsally from the head area about 150 cm back toward thecaudal peduncle. Though severely wounded, the two livenarwhals gave igorous exhalations and thrashed with theirtails when we ouched them.The two dead belugas (Fig. 2:l and 5) were almost totallyeaten and probably had been killed several days before thenarwhals. Gulls had scavenged the remains for some time.All the narwhals might have been stranded or driven ashoreat the same time. The carcassf the neonate narwhal, whichevidently had been dragged inland, appeared to be as fresh asthose of the adult female narwhals (Fig. 2:6).Two adult belugas and one alf estimated to be wo-thirdsthe length of the large whales were still alivend entrappedin a tidal pool about 300 m from the adult narwhal carcasses(Fig.2).The water was about 2 m deep, allowing themsufficient room to wim and submerge ompletely.When we returned by helicopter the following day therewere no ears in the mmediatearea, but we sighted one largebear about 5
km
to the east along the beach. The three livebelugas were still activend remained entrapped in the tidalpool. We could not land because of extreme highwinds.
If
thewhales had become entrapped during he series of high tidesthat occurred from29 July to
1
August, they would probablynot have been able o get free until the next high ides, whichoccurred on 28-30 August. The fateof these animals remainsunknown.
Attacks and
Kills
of
Belugas
in
the Water
On 13July 1985 at
13:20
a large polar bear,presumed to bea male, was observed by telescope walkingon ice floes thathad drifted in along the eastern shore of Cunningham Inlet.The bear tayed throughout the afternoon at the edge of a floeand watched the whales swimmingclose by. At 21 :35he bearmade annsuccessful aquatic stalk (Stirling,974)of a bearded seal that was lying on ance floe. Subsequentourly observa-tions indicated that the bear stayed at the edge of the originalice pan throughouthe night and early morninghours. Duringthis period the ice pan drifted to a position
1.0
km from themain river channel and approximately 1.5 km from theobservation point. Between 05:40 and 06:30 the bear pre-sumably jumped into the water andkilled a 200-250 cm ongbeluga calf (Fig. 3:l). At 06:30, when we first observed theestimated 140-250 kg calf (D.W. Doidge, Arctic BiologicalStation, unpubl. weight-length data) onhe ice pan, the bearhad already eaten some skin nd blubber on the back. Feed-ing continued until 08:15, after which ime the bear fedintermittently. At 11:41 he bear dragged the carcass nto thewater, swam with it for a short distance and then pulled itback up onto the same ice floe. Only little blubber and skinremained on he tail stock of the beluga carcass. At
4:OO
heabandoned the carcass and walked across everal ice floes oa location approximately 500 m from the west shore of theinlet. He lay down near the edge of an ice pan and sleptcontinuously for 23 hours.At approximately16:OO on
15
July the bear resumed watch-ing whales surfacing near the edge of the ice floe. Between17:40 and 17:43 he again captured a 200-250 cm beluga calf(Fig. 3:2). Weid not observehe actual capture, but we hearda loud splash, which we interpreted as the bear leaping intothe water from the ice floe.
 
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~G.3.Locationofbear~sofbelugacalves(#s1,2)on13-15J~y1985andpathof
movement
of
belugas toward a
swimming
bear on
30
July
1983
(0
=
observation hut;
M
=
mobbing site).
The bear climbed backnto thece pan, ragging thealf by the head, then secured the carcass with a forepaw and imme-diately began to bite the head and neck. The belugaalf raisedand lowered its flukes several times and ceased movement at
1757.
The bear ate steadily from the carcass until
19:30,
leptuntil
09:40
he next morning and egan to eat again. At
11:15
he abandoned thekill and walked along the ice pans about
500
m to the east and again started watching the whalesswimming past the edge f the ice pan. At
11:30
a mixed-agegroup of
15-20
elugas swam within
3
m of the ice and thebear lunged into the water without apparently making on-tact. He swam or the next
42
minutes northward, followingthe whales and making
11
surface dives near them. Whaleswith young calves stayed
in
the immediate area of the bearand appeared to swim along with him. At
12:13
he bearclimbed out onto an ice pan and the whales continued toswim north.Throughout this episode, a female bear and twoone-year-old cubs were sighted feeding at the first carcass, while thepresumed male slept by the second carcass. There were nointeractions observed between the bearsince the female andcubs were usually
0.5
to
2.0
km
rom the male. When the male
bearleftthesecondkillat11:15on16July,thefemaleandcubs
immediately moved to it and startedeeding on the emains.At
14:30
hey left the whale carcass and disappeared to the
POLAR BEAR PREDATION ON WHALES
/
101
north. Most of the blubber and partsf the muscle and viscerahad been eaten from the carcass.
Interactions
of
Bears and Belugas
in
the Water
On three occasions we have seen belugas swimming inclose proximity to polar bears. At Cunningham Inlet on
30
July
1983,
medium-size bearwas scared into the water by usafter he had come too closeo our camp. The bearntered thewater well away from any belugas and began swimmingnorth outof the inlet about100m parallel to the west shore.It had swum about km when it encountered a group of
20
belugas. At
10:41
we observed all of the approximately
100
belugas located at the mouth of the main channel make acoordinated group movement that brought them to he loca-tion of the bear. They covered the distance in about
3-5
minutes (Fig.
3).
As they approached they formed
a
semi-circle around thebear, which topped swimming andegan to turn around inthe water. The whales maintained
a
10-15
m distance, butoccasionally an adultwhale would approach to within
1-2
m.Eventually the whales appeared to cause the bear to moveinto the hallow water along the shore, where it emained ina sitting position watching the whales for several minutes.Once the bear was on thehore some of the whales returnedto the river mouth, while thers moved into the shallow baydirectly in front of the observation hut. Four large adultwhales remained
15-20
m from shore and followed the bearas it walked along the land. The bear paid no attentionto them.A similar incident at CunninghamInlet was observed on
9
July
1988.
A
sub-adult bear was seen crossing the deltaeastwards towards ourcamp. It made several unsuccessfulattempts attalking whales at the mouth of the river channelsby wading into the water and moving towards the whalesvery slowly while standing onts hind feet. Afterhe bear hadarrived in front of our camp, it began walkingorth along thewest coastf the inlet on theravel beach. There were belugasall along the west side of the inlet very closeo the shore. Oneof us followed the bear to observe it with binoculars. Afterwalking out to the end of a small point of land, the bearcontinued in its northwardirection parallel to the beach bywading into the water and swimming in directed manner.A group f
10-12
arge belugas in the area approached thebear and madeclose underwater passes within
1-2
m of thebear while exhaling air, which burst as ubbles near him. Thewhales appeared to dive synchronously and reappearat thesurface at about one-minute intervals. More than onewhaleapproached theear, which urned in the water several timesin response.
On
one close pass by a whale or whales, he beardove underwater and remained submerged for about
10
seconds. The flukes nd tailstock of a large grey beluga werethen seen to emerge, with the bear reappearing almost simul-taneously beside it. The bear continued swimming in itsoriginal direction and the whales again appeared near it aftersome
2-3
minutes. Again on a close pass by the whales thebear made a surface dive andemained underwater for about
15
seconds. Therewas somehrashing just under the surfaceand the ear came up shaking its head.
No
blood was seen oneither occasion, but we assumed that the bear was attemptingto make contact with the whales. Shortly after hat the bearheaded into the nearest shoreline, about
150
m away. While

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