Eating eggs at all is unusual behaviour for the bears, and now the amount eaten could also cause a problem for bird populations in the Svalbard habitat.
“This is putting a great pressure on populations of eider and geese in areas where polar bears are threatened. We are also seeing more skua and glaucous gulls, which also eat eggs,” senior researcher and biologist Geir Wing Gabrielsen of the Norwegian Polar Institute said to the Klassekampen newspaper, writes news agency NTB.
Gabrielsen has researched sea birds and ecology at Svalbard’s Kongsfjorden inlet and the research town of Ny-Ålesund on the extreme north island group for 35 years, writes NTB.
Observing polar bears on land is not common on Svalbard, but six of the animals are currently present in the area at the same time the eider and geese are hatching.
“This is connected to rising temperatures and less sea ice in the Arctic,” Gabrielsen said.
Polar bears were first seen eating eggs in 2004.
Up to 30-40 eggs have been eaten by the bears in the area observed by researchers – enough to turn the animals’ snouts yellow, according to the report.
Due to the reduction in sea ice, polar bears that do not complete the journey far enough north to reach ice must find alternative food to seals. In other areas in the Arctic, polar bears have also been observed climbing towards bird nests in search of eggs or chicks.
The change in diet is likely to affect the general health of the bears, according to the report. Canadian research has shown that altered diet can result in reduced birth rates amongst the polar bears.