The preferred prey for polar bears are seals - the species they prey upon most often are ringed seals and bearded seals, two species that are members of the group of seals known as "ice seals," because of their need for ice for giving birth, nursing, resting and finding prey.
Ringed seals are one of the most common seal species in the Arctic. They are a small seal that grows to about 5 feet in length and about 150 pounds in weight. They live on top of, and underneath the ice, and use claws on their front flippers to dig breathing holes in the ice. A polar bear will patiently wait for the seal to surface to breathe or climb onto the ice, and then it will swat it with its claws or pounce on it. The polar bear feeds primarily on the seal's skin and blubber, leaving the meat and carcass for scavengers. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, a polar bear may kill a ringed seal every 2-6 days.
Bearded seals are larger, and grow to 7-8 feet in length. They weigh 575-800 pounds. Polar bears are their main predator. Unlike the more open breathing holes of ringed seals, the breathing holes of bearded seals are capped with ice, which may make them less easy to detect.
If their preferred prey isn't available, polar bears will feed on walruses, whale carcasses, or even garbage if they live near humans. Polar bears have a strong sense of smell, which comes in handy for finding prey, even from long distances.
What Eats Polar Bears?
Do polar bears have predators? Polar bear predators include killer whales (orcas), possibly sharks, and humans. Polar bear cubs may be killed by smaller animals, such as wolves, and other polar bears.
References and Further Information:
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Ringed Seal Species Profile. Accessed January 31, 2013.
- National Marine Mammal Laboratory. Bearded Seal. Accessed January 31, 2013.
- Neuberger, A., et. al. Erignathus barbatus (Bearded Seal). Animal Diversity Web. Accessed January 31, 2013.
- NOAA Fisheries: Office of Protected Resources. Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus). Accessed January 31, 2013.