Walruses, evaluating as long as 1,300 kilos with significant tusks and also almost impervious heads, are practically difficult for a starving polar bear to eliminate. However brand-new research study recommends that some polar bears have actually developed a work-around — slamming walruses on the head with a block of rock or ice.      

For greater than 200 years, Inuit in Greenland and also the eastern Canadian Arctic have actually informed tales of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) utilizing such devices to assist in eliminating walruses. Yet travelers, conservationists and also authors commonly disregarded such accounts, delegating them to misconception in addition to stories regarding shape-shifting bears.     

The determination of these records, consisting of one record from an Inuk seeker in the late 1990s, paired with images of a male polar bear called GoGo at a Japanese zoo utilizing devices to get put on hold meat urged Ian Stirling and also associates to explore additionally.     

“It’s been my basic monitoring that if a seasoned Inuit seeker informs you that he’s seen something, it’s worth paying attention to and also highly likely to be proper,” states Stirling, among the globe’s leading polar bear biologists.

The scientists assessed historic, used monitorings of device usage in polar bears reported by Inuit seekers to travelers and also conservationists in addition to current monitorings by Inuit seekers and also non-Inuit scientists and also recorded monitorings of GoGo and also brownish bears — polar bears’ closest loved ones — utilizing devices in bondage to accessibility food. This evaluation recommends that tool use in wild polar bears, though infrequent, does occur in the case of hunting walruses as a result of their plus size, the scientists report in the June Arctic.

“Truly, the only varieties you would certainly intend to bash on the head with an item of ice would certainly be a walrus,” states Andrew Derocher, supervisor of the Polar Bear Scientific Research Laboratory at the College of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, that wasn’t entailed with the brand-new research. He believes that it could simply be a couple of polar bears that do this actions. For instance, if a mom bear determined exactly how to utilize ice or rock by doing this, “it’s something her children would certainly detect,” however not always an ability polar bears throughout the Arctic would certainly get, he states.

Amongst pets, utilizing devices to fix issues has actually long been considered a pen of a greater degree of what people think about knowledge. Infamously wise primates, for instance, craft spears to search smaller sized animals (SN: 2/28/07). Dolphins bring marine sponges in their mouths to mix sand and also discover target (SN: 6/8/05). As well as elephants have actually been recognized to go down logs or big rocks onto electrical fencings to remove the power supply.

Research studies on the cognitive capacities of polar bears are doing not have. “We don’t understand anything speculative or unbiased whatsoever,” Stirling states. “Nevertheless, we have a lot of empirical details that has a tendency to recommend polar bears are truly wise.”

Participants of the bear household, Ursidae, are usually presumed to have solid cognitive abilities as an outcome of their big minds and also confirmed by their innovative searching approaches. Research studies on restricted American black bears have actually also exposed some mental capabilities that appear to exceed those of primates.

sculpture of polar bear lifting block of ice over the head of a sleeping walrus
This sculpture in the Itsanitaq Gallery in Churchill, Canada reveals a polar bear raising a block of ice over the head of a resting walrus.Gloria Dickie

Gabriel Nirlungayuk, an Inuk seeker of Rankin Inlet in Nunavut, Canada, states he has actually listened to such tales of polar bears utilizing devices to search walruses. “I’ve seen polar bears considering that I was possibly 7 years of ages. I’ve been around them, I’ve pursued along with them, and also I have actually seen their habits. The most intelligent seekers are normally the women bears.” Occasionally, he states, polar bears will certainly deceive young seals to find more detailed by acting to be asleep in open water. Various other times he’s observed that a polar bear can seek a seal’s breathing opening in ice, also if it’s covered by snow.

“I have actually collaborated with the Inuit on standard expertise for a long time and also among my preferred topics is polar bears, since scientific research commonly recommends something and also the Inuit state one more point,” he keeps in mind.

There are around 26,000 wild polar bears residing in 19 subpopulations throughout the Arctic and also sub-Arctic. The bears mostly consume seals, searching the aquatic animals by surveying over their breathing openings. As a result of environment adjustment, Arctic sea ice is quick disappearing, and also researchers predict that numerous polar bear populaces will certainly be vanished by the century’s end. Determined polar bears might significantly assault walruses, however “there are constraints to the amount of walruses a grown-up bear can remove,” states coauthor Kristin Laidre, an Arctic environmentalist at the College of Washington in Seattle. It takes a great deal of power.

Adhering to magazine of the brand-new research, Stirling obtained a video clip from U.S. Geological Study researcher Anthony Pagano, based in Anchorage, Alaska, that had actually formerly connected a GoPro video camera to a wild polar bear for a different job. That video, Stirling states, reveals a female polar bear sliding a large block of ice around prior to tossing it right into the water at a seal.