The main prey of the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is seals, particularly ringed seals (Pusa hispida) and bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus). Polar bears are highly specialized predators that primarily rely on seals as their primary source of food. Here’s more information about their diet and hunting habits:
- Ringed Seals: Ringed seals are the most common prey for polar bears. These seals inhabit the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding seas. Polar bears hunt them on sea ice, using holes in the ice called “breathing holes” or lairs to catch them. Polar bears patiently wait by these holes, ambushing the seals when they surface for air.
- Bearded Seals: Bearded seals are another important prey species for polar bears. They are larger than ringed seals and can provide more sustenance for the bears. Like ringed seals, bearded seals are also hunted by polar bears when they come up to breathe through holes in the ice.
Polar bears are well-adapted to hunting seals in their icy environment. They use their powerful sense of smell to detect seals from a distance, even when the seals are underwater. When a polar bear detects a seal’s breathing hole, it will quietly wait nearby for the seal to surface. Once the seal surfaces, the polar bear uses its strength and agility to swiftly grab the seal and pull it out of the water onto the ice.
Polar bears might also consume other sources of food when they’re available, such as carcasses of marine mammals, fish, and the occasional bird’s eggs. However, seals make up the vast majority of their diet, providing them with the high-fat content they need to survive in their cold Arctic environment.
It’s important to note that polar bears are considered marine mammals and are highly dependent on sea ice for hunting and resting. Climate change and the reduction of sea ice are significant threats to their survival, as they rely on the ice as a platform for hunting seals. Reduced ice cover can make it more difficult for polar bears to access their primary prey, potentially impacting their health and reproductive success.