28 June 1999

Polar Bears Attack Trapped Whales

A group of Beluga whales trapped in the Canadian arctic by shifting ice are being attacked by polar bears. According to the reports, the flesh of the whales is being torn off as the whales surface to breathe.

Hunters first noticed that about 50 whales were trapped under ice near Ellesmere Island, 620 miles north of the Arctic Circle, in late April. The nearest open water was about 18 miles away, too far for the whales to detect by sonar.

It quoted Brian Glover of Royal Canadian Mounted Police as saying the whales had been using a single hole in the ice to surface and breathe.

"They've just been coming up to the same hole over and over," Glover said.

"The bears have been waiting there and jumping on top of them and going for their heads or their blowholes. A lot of them are quite damaged, quite scarred," he said.

"There are huge chunks of flesh taken out of the backs of the whales."

He said many of the whales had been so badly wounded that the bears could pull them out of the water and onto the ice.

Local hunters and trappers had since punched five more holes in nearby ice, giving the whales other places to breathe and a greater chance of avoiding the bears.

Glover said that up to thirteen polar bears had been seen at one time at the edge of the ice, waiting to pounce on the whales.

Beluga whales, also known as white whales are common in the area but hunters had not seen such a large group trapped since the 1960s, he said.

The ice was starting to break up and the remaining whales should soon be able to get away from the bear attack.

"Nothing can really be done about it. You have to let Mother Nature take its course," Glover said.