Polar bears are opportunistic hunters. They have been recorded stalking caribou, raiding eider duck colonies, catching geese from underneath the water and even taking a passing swipe at a snowy owl, raven or snow bunting.
Individual bears can adapt hunting strategies in a wide variety of ways. One interesting adaptation is the ice floe impersonation. A polar bear will swim/float within striking distance of a seal or even beluga whale. Bears have been witnessed exhibiting this behaviour in the Churchill River!
During Churchill’s bear season, you can watch bears learn how to hunt…tourists. In 2005, one bear, nicknamed Number One (pictured on page 23), learned to use the handle on the side of the Tundra Vehicles as added leverage to get just that much closer to a free lunch. Over the years, there have been bears who have learned to open doors, slide windows, climb on tires – luckily, we are too skinny for most bears to put forth that much effort.
Inuit hunters have told stories crediting bears with a variety of adaptations, including covering their black nose with their paw while stalking or even using large ice blocks to kill walrus.
While these stories have not been scientifically confirmed, the bears’ intelligence and resourcefulness should not be underestimated. Of course, I tend to take the word of people that used to hunt bears with a sharpened 3’ long stick even if it has not been proven.
Anyone who has spent time around polar bears knows that they are always watching and learning and waiting. Often, they seemingly nonchalantly assess a situation and retreat, only to come back under cover of darkness and enact their plan. Regardless, it is quite clear that many bears learn after only one repetition. This combined with their curiosity makes life in polar bear country quite interesting.