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Jennifer Mendoza
Professor Crouch
Biology 003
5 December 2012
Polar Bear Diets
The research article entitled Polar Bears and Arctic Marine Food Webs: Insights from
Fatty Acid Analysis discusses, based on data collected, the dietary intake of polar bears and
shows the complexity of this species in relation to its environment. This article was written in
collaboration with Gregory W. Thiemann, Sara J. Iverson, and Ian Stirling. Since polar bears are
a top predator and live significantly longer lives, the study of these species can provide
information on the ecosystem it is part of as well as the changes that can occur in it over time. In
order to understand the ecological impact of these top predators, knowing the dietary intake is of
upmost importance.
There have been some studies that explain that polar bears primary prey include ringed
seals, but recently conducted studies state that harp seals are also an important component of
their diet. Other observations have shown that other prey are also part of their diet though they
may be of a less important in their dietary intake like beluga whales, narwhals and walruses. The
authors hypothesized that the diets of polar bears would be different as the distance over regions
increased also believing that the diets would be influenced by factors including sex and age. For
example, males would be more likely to capture larger prey given their size compared to that of
females and cubs. Also, because of the reduction of sea ice covering the Canadian Arctic, authors
believe that polar bears would prey on ring and bearded seals to a lesser extent which would lead
them to prey on harp seals.
One thousand seven hundred thirty eight polar bears were used in this study over the span

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of thirty two years and one thousand ninety two samples were taken from those species. These
samples were taken from different regions some of them including the Northern Beaufort Sea,
MClintock Channel, Western Hudson Bay, and Baffin Bay etc... The samples that were taken
were from polar bears ranging in different sizes and either sex. They were marked during a
recapture study conducted in Western Hudson Bay as well as other areas. By utilizing a Bell
206BJetRanger helicopter to locate the polar bears, they were then immobilized through the
combined usage of both tiletamine hydrochloride and zolazepam hydrochloride. The tissue
samples were collected by using a six mm biopsy punch which was approximately fifteen
centimeters from the base of the tail. When the polar bears were first captured, they were each
given a unique number differing from the rest and were thus written on plastic tags which were
then attached to each of their ears. Moreover, the number was tattooed in the inside of their lip
for further accuracy. In order to explore the long term trends in their diets and FA signatures,
samples were taken from all the years. This current study also reanalyzed past data obtained
through the usage of the modeling data known as QFASA.
The trends that resulted of the experiment included that the populations who were
adjacent to one another had the most similar FA signatures in contrast to those that are farther
apart which have differing signatures. Age and sex had an effect on the FA signatures obtained
although there were some exceptions. For example, when considering the age factor, there were
some regions in which this wasnt a significant effect like Lancaster Sound, Gulf of Boothia and
Baffin Bay. The bearded seal biomass prey was most common in the diets of the polar bears
living in MClintock Channel with a fortieth percentile of the FA signatures, whereas the harp
seal comprised thirty two percent in Davis Strait. Also, in Foxe Basin, polar bears intake up to
seven percent of walruses which is the highest percentile of this species intake in comparison to
the other regions mentioned. There were some interannual differences in polar bear diets in
Northern Beaufort Sea. There was a reduction in the consumption of bearded seals in the year

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2000 but this changed in 2004. Moreover, in the time period of 1972-1990 and 2000, the
consumption of beluga whales doubled after which they went back to its regular levels. In South
Hudson Bay, there was a reduction in the consumption of the bearded seals in females and in
males; however, with in males the number increased once more in 2003. The female bears had
less of an intake of harp seals while ringed seal consumption increased in the span of 2000-2003.
However, in the Western Hudson Bay, the trends were similar among both sexes.
The results that were obtained helped to get a clearer picture of the arctic ecosystem and
the benefits of being able to utilize it to detect future changes in the arctic food webs. The
similarities that were seen, based on the data, were between neighboring populations because of
the shared prey. One of the reasons why there was such strong similarities between the Northern
and Southern Beaufort Sea regions is because both populations looked for food in the area
surrounding Cape Bathurst. The species most commonly consumed were from the regions of the
Arctic known as the ringed seals. This shows the close evolutionary relationship that they have
given that there are large amounts of these species in the regions. However, other results show
that polar bear diets include more than just the consumption of ringed seals. Polar bears are able
to alter their search techniques in order to utilize the species that are available to meet their
energy requirements. This shows that some polar bears would be more likely to deal with an
altering environment and be able to adapt themselves to the present conditions. But the majority
of polar bears depend on ringed seals and there are insufficient species that could alter this
dependency. In addition, because male polar bears are twice as larger as females, they consume
the larger prey like the bearded seals, in order to meet their higher caloric needs.
The new knowledge that this article has provided is through the QFASA model. It has
presented important information regarding arctic food webs in terms of the way they work and
the different components that influence it. It explains that polar bears are able to forage other
species beyond the ones that they commonly consume and that age and sex can have an effect as

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to what species they prey on. Because the QFASA model is able to measure dietary changes
through time and between the various regions, it will be able to show the ecological changes
from an early stage. Some questions that could be researched are what kind of an impact will
global warming in years to come have on arctic species like polar bears and whether they would
actually be able to adapt to those differing environmental conditions. Since global warming is a
pressing issue, it is essential to think about how species living in climate regions with cold
temperatures will be affected with the continuation of global warming and its effects on marine
ecosystems. The quality of the research was very well done. There are many charts relaying the
different data obtained which prove their conclusions. The article is very thorough providing
extensive details regarding every process of the experiment. It was interesting to see the
exploration regarding the marine food web through a top predator like the polar bear and
tracking down their diets in order to see changes through time.

Works Cited
Gregory W. Thiemann. Polar Bear Diets and Arctic Marine Food Webs: Insights from Fatty
Acid Analysis. Sara J. Iverson and Ian Stirling. Ecological Monographs 78. (No.4). Nov,
2008. 591-613. JSTOR. Web. 2 December 2012.