So, the hypothesis involving polar bears feeding on goose eggs is once again in the news and being used by both sides to discredit the other. A recent post at the Polar Bears International website ‘dispelling’ polar bear myths has led me to write a bit of a backgrounder and actually prove this myth ‘busted or not’.
Myth: Polar bears will supplement their diet with goose eggs. TRUE.
Polar bears have and always will be opportunistic animals. They eat almost anything if they think it will help them. This behaviour has been recorded through studies, observations by Parks Canada personnel, researchers, hunters, etc.
Myth: Polar bears eating goose eggs is a recent development caused by declining sea ice. FALSE.
If you look at the very early studies and observations of polar bears, you can find anecdotal evidence of goose egg harvesting. In Fred Bruemmers books from the early 1970s, Inuit hunters talk about the bears diet while on land, including raiding goose nests. In fact, much of what we ‘know’ about polar bears can be found in these very early books. It has since been rewritten by scientists but the fact remains that the Inuit and northerners knew much of this before science told them it was ‘discovered’.
MYTH: Polar bears could live on goose eggs instead of seals. FALSE
However, I have never actually heard anyone make this claim – other than PBI’s Steve Amstrup when he ‘dispels’ it. If ice breakup is one or two weeks earlier, goose eggs can make a difference in survival for some bears, nobody refutes this claim.
In fact, Amstrup goes on to state that it would take only 88 eggs or 22 goose nests to replace a seal’s caloric value to a polar bear. This is surprisingly low to me… and it actually, makes this crazy idea seem more plausible.
There are around 50,000 snow geese just in Wapusk National Park… in fact, the population was considered ‘out of control’ in early 2000s, maybe still is – they’ve had a few bad years though. Anyway, there are millions of snow geese and Canada Geese throughout the arctic. Snow geese are considered a threat as they ‘grub’ the tundra, pulling plants out by the root and leaving it as essentially a salt flat.
PBI also warns of a collapse in the goose population along Hudson Bay from 25,000 nesting pairs to 5,000 pairs. Well, if they had any knowledge of Churchill, they might know that 5,000 nesting pairs up here is not quite considered a bad thing. In fact, they really should know that its not that long ago that 5,000 nesting pairs was the population of geese up here (that was when we were saving snow geese – before we were saving bears but after we were saving caribou…).
Anyway, we have a ‘disaster’ because the sea ice is breaking up earlier and bears are starving and another ‘disaster’ because snow geese population is exploding and ruining the tundra. Now, it seems that more bears may be eating goose eggs as a means of supplementing their diet. This, in turn, would increase their chance of survival through their time on land while decreasing the population.
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t reduce greenhouse gases, use less stuff, maximize sustainable energy resources… but that’s for our survival and you people aren’t children – at least, I hope you’re not because I swore just a couple blogs ago. But, duh, use less or accept the consequences. Pretty basic.
BUT… Wouldn’t it be something if nature managed to come to some sort of ‘balance’ with ice, bears and geese, at least for the short-term… What a rare and intriguing concept these days that nature has a way of taking care of itself.
Thank you PBI for dispelling this ‘myth’, I have more hope for Churchill’s bears than I ever did before.