Polar bears are not fussy when it comes to eating, consuming fresh seals to rotting whale carcasses to molluscs dug up on the beach, and have even been observed to chase and catch reindeer (Stempniewicz et al., 2014). With such scarce food, they can’t afford to be picky! Only 2% of hunts are successful (WWF, 2014).
As the largest predator around, you would think every animal would be able to see a polar bear approaching. Polar bears can get very close to prey without them seeing, and we see their stalking techniques in this clip by my favourite wildlife cameraman, Gordon Bucanan, for the BBC programme, The Polar Bear family + Me.
They approach the prey downwind so the prey has less chance of detecting them, and they move very slowly to not be detected as seals have poor eyesight. Their white coat allows them to blend in with the barren landscape and large paws help them to keep quite when stalking. In such a vast area of land, prey is few and far between, their sense of smell is their best asset.
Breathing holes are carved out by seals in the early winter and are used throughout the season to come up for air and also as a means to haul out onto the ice sheet. Polar bears can smell a seal up to 1km away, and 1m under the snow. Using their excellent sense of smell, the polar bear finding the breathing holes and lies in wait for a seal to appear, sometimes for hours at a time. Polar bears usually kill seals which are under two years old (Smith, 1980). The main types of seals that polar bears consume are ringed seals (Pusa hispida) and bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus).