Stories of polar bears using rocks and chunks of ice to bludgeon walruses have been a part of folklore for centuries, but now recent findings have confirmed that the big bears do indeed use blunt objects when toiling with some of the biggest and toughest prey the eat.
Depictions of polar bears using their front paws to pick up rocks and ice chunks to smash the skulls of unsuspecting walruses have appeared artwork created by Inuits in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland fore more than 200 years.
The idea of polar bears using rocks to help dispatch walruses was largely considered to be a tall tale, and mostly dismissed as a myth by the scientific community.
However, that myth has just been busted according to Ian Stirling, a polar bear expert from the University of Alberta.
“One of the things that I have done over the years is worked with a lot of experienced Inuit hunters out on the sea ice, and one thing that you become aware of very quickly is that if an experienced hunter tells you he’s seen something or describes something, you can pretty well take that for granted that that’s quite true.
To the fact that there were so many of these kinds of reports, and they were all really quite basically similar, indicated that there was something out there that might be worth looking at.”
Stirling and his colleagues conducted the most comprehensive review of documents focused on Inuit hunting stories and cross referenced the polars bears described hunting technique with confirmed instances of bears in captivity developing the ability to use various tools to access their food.
Recently a male polar bear named GoGo at a Japanese zoo is the best example of a polar bear learning how to use tools to obtain food. To test GoGo’s skills, the zoo keepers hung meat above his enclosure and out of his reach.
The bear quickly developed several different methods to get ahold of the meat, including hitting it with a stick like a piñata and taking an object from his enclosure and shooting like it basketball to knock it down. That is the same technique described by the Inuit stories.
The polar bears launch rocks and ice chunks at walruses to knock or stun them out before attacking.
“The most significant part of this is that a bear is able to look at a situation, think of it in a three-dimensional sense, and then figure out what it might have to do to be successful.
They normally hunt seals, and the seals have skulls which are very easy to crush when the polar bears bite. But walruses have very heavy, thick skulls and a polar bear simply cannot bite into the skull and kill the animal by doing that.”