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The Circle of Life - Cannibalism


Warning - This blog post contains distressing imagery, videos and information. If required, I can supply a document version without imagery.


One of the issues mentioned in a previous blog post was the lack of food available to polar bears. Climate change has had a catastrophic impact on the environment in which polar bears live, and how much ice is left. With a reduction in ice, polar bears are unable to reach their prey, and struggle to hunt even when they do find their prey.

Because of their lack of ability to reach their usual prey, polar bears have begun eating each other. This is something that has been happening for a long time anyway, but on a much smaller scale. Cannibalism amongst polar bears has become a lot more common in recent years, and this is due to the reduction in their environment due to climate change.

This is actually the main thing that made me want to look into the issues that polar bears are facing in more detail. I was watching a documentary last year which showed a male polar bear chasing down a female and her cub. The female attempted to defend her child, but the male caught and killed her cub. She retreated and watched from a distance as the male polar bear ripped her cub apart and ate it, leaving some remains. She waited for the male to go, and then returned to her dead cub. She picked up the remains in her mouth and dragged them off into the distance. The narration from a conservational scientist noted that this was most likely "to get some closure" and to say goodbye to her cub. I genuinely found this absolutely devastating. I couldn't find the entire clip, but the video below shows part of the footage that I witnessed in that documentary.

In almost all cases, it's an adult, male polar bear that attacks, kills eats another polar bear. Also, in almost all cases, the adult, male polar bear will target cubs, rather than male or female adults. If an adult male kills an adult female, it is usually becasue she was trying to defend her cubs.

Now, an obvious use of technology to rectify this situation would be to use things like cameras or trackers to see when a male polar bear is approaching a female with cubs. However, this isn't a solution to the situation. The adult, males are eating cubs because they need food, and if the only thing they can eat is cubs then that's what they need to eat. We need to get to the root cause of the issue, which is a lack of environment and thus a lack of access to their usual prey.

My Thoughts

As I mentioned in the post, I was absolutely devastated when I saw the documentary footage of the polar bear cub being killed by another of its own kind. This was the main reason why I wanted to explore polar bears further within this assignment, and consider ways in which technology may be able to help them and aid their survival.

It's a tricky situation, because our instinct is to want to help the female and cubs and stop the male. However, as I said earlier, the male polar bears are only hunting the cubs because they need to eat to survive. We can't prevent them from obtaining the only food source that they have access to.

We need to consider ways in which we can help them obtain other sources of food, so that they don't need to rely on eating each other for survival. Is there any technology that could be designed to improve either their environment or their access to other sources of food?

I will try to consider some possibilities in a blog post towards the end of my project.


Read More:

Richardson, Evan S. "The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World." Arctic, vol. 61, no. 4, Dec. 2008

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