The polar bear’s diet is very important because they need to consume great amounts of food. Polar bears are the largest land predators, and are on top of the food chain in the artic. Occasionally polar bears eat other mammals, eggs and even vegetation. Sometimes a whale carcass washes up on the beach; it will provide polar bears with a hearty banquet. Many times they will even share their food with other bears. However, polar bears eat primarily ringed and bearded seals and sea lions. They catch seals mainly by still-hunting at breathing holes, haul-outs, and lairs, or stalking basking seals.
Rarely do polar bears catch seals in open water; they are far more successful at hunting them on the ice. There is a myth that they bear covers its black nose while lying to wait for a seal, but hundreds of polar bears have been watched and no one has ever seen this done. Their powerful sense of smell helps them locate the breathing holes in the ice. Then the bears catch their prey when they surface to breathe. Seals swim to the surface to breathe every 5 to 15 minutes, but because they visit as many as 15 breathing holes, a polar bear could wait for its prey hours or even days.
In the summer, they are known to migrate uninterruptedly with the ice drift in an east-west direction all around the North Pole, seeking sea lion regions. Those that are stranded on land in the summer must stay there until the ice forms again in the fall. On land the bears face lean times, for they seldom catch seals without platform ice. However, there are also stationary polar bears. They are most frequent where there are stretches of open water, since sea lions are most easily caught there. Biologists believe that starvation is the leading cause of death for sub-adult bears.
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|Page last updated March 17, 2005|