The arctic is changing rapidly and drastically. Large parts that used to be frozen all year are now free of ice in the summer. In fact, each summer for the last thirty years there has been more water and less ice.
We used to know the Arctic as an ocean locked in ice where everything that survived had adapted to this frozen world. However, this recent excess of water is producing a dramatic shift of power. What this means in that one Arctic hunter may soon have to give way to another terrifying predator because solid ice is turning into open sea rather quickly.
The polar bear, which once bore the title of ‘King of the North’, needs ice in order to stalk its prey. Without the ice, it would not survive. Polar bears have a great advantage over prey that sooner or later must surface to breathe. Attacking from above, the polar bear smashes the ice to get to seals that are hiding below. The polar bear’s keen sense of smell helps it to find the places where his food hides out. With the scarcity of ice, polar bears have been starting to improvise by climbing up steep cliffs to feed on thick-billed murre. It takes a lot of energy to reach these birds and the hunt is not always successful.
However, killer whales can’t hunt in an ocean locked in ice. So as the ice continues to disappear, the tables start to turn and polar bears are struggling to survive while the now open ocean provides bountiful new hunting grounds for the whales—the most feared mammal in the ocean. Because their immense dorsal fins can’t break through the ice, the orcas were kept out of the Arctic for thousands of years, but now the barriers have melted allowing them a free pass. The Inuit were the first to notice and report an increase in their numbers.
The Arctic summer had always meant an abundance of narwhals but these may now also begin to disappear because of the presence of the killer whales.
Those that live there are starting to share the story of the changing fortunes and scientists are working hand in hand with the Inuit to document the arrival of the ocean’s most feared hunter.
Watch amazing footage of polar bears and orcas strategizing to find food in this remarkable film.