A visibly emaciated polar bear spotted on the ice around Norway’s Arctic archipelago of Svalbard was recently recorded making a record-breaking dive in an attempt to surprise and attack some nearby seals. The bear managed to spend three minutes and 10 seconds underwater in his desperate attempt to secure food.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Friday about how the captain and passengers on board a polar yacht filmed the remarkable incident last summer.
The bear, who may not have been able to eat for months, was first seen roaming and resting on the ice floe before he spotted three seals lying on another ice floe.
With cameras rolling, the bear slipped quietly into the water and swam towards the ice where the seals were lying. When he was around 35-40 meters from them, he dove underwater, apparently to mount a surprise attack.
After just a few seconds, as recorded by the cameras still rolling, one of the seals suddenly lifted its head and urgently looked around before disappearing into the water itself around 30 seconds later. The two other seals continued to lie on the ice.
Suddenly the polar bear shot out of the water and hurled himself at one of the seals, three minutes and 10 seconds after his dive. The entire incident was also observed through binoculars by the captain of the vessel, identified by Aftenposten as the experienced polar guide Rinie van Meurs, and several passengers assembled on the vessel’s bridge. There were no signs the bear had surfaced at any time before he made his attack.
It was not successful. The seals slipped away, leaving the bear panting and still hungry on the ice.
Van Meurs sent the video of the entire episode to polar bear expert and researcher Ian Stirling at the University of Alberta in Canada, who earlier had documented a record dive of 70 seconds. Polar bears were only thought to survive around two minutes under water. Now the Svalbard episode suggests they’ve adapted to the need for much longer dives and swims as the melting ice from global warming continues to threaten their food supply.
Stirling agreed the Svalbard incident set a new record among documented polar bear dives and both he and Van Meurs wrote an article about it for the scientific magazine Polar Biology, which was published in the magazine’s August issue (external link to the magazine’s website).