Dozens of polar bears pictured eating whale carcass on Russian island

Dozens of polar bears pictured eating whale carcass on Russian island

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A handout picture taken on September 19, 2017 shows polar bears gathering around the carcass of a bowhead whale on the shore of Russia's Wrangel Island. / AFP PHOTO / HANDOUT / Max STEPHENSON / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / Max STEPHENSON" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS TO MATCH AFP STORY "Polar bears crowd on Russian island in sign of changing Arctic" by Maria ANTONOVA NO ARCHIVE

Polar bears are often seen wandering alone – and the sight of them feasting as a pack has left experts “gobsmacked”.

Experts are “gobsmacked” after dozens of polar bears were photographed eating the carcass of a bowhead whale which washed ashore on a Russian island in the Arctic.

Polar bears are often seen wandering alone and September’s episode has been described as a “completely unique situation”.

 A group of tourists and scientists in a boat witnessed the mammals feasting on the Wrangel Island nature reserve.
Polar bears eat whale carcass
Image:Some 200 polar bears have been seen roaming on Wrangel Island. Pic: AFP/Getty Images/A Gruzdev

The animals were among 200 of the bears that gathered on the side of a mountain.

Experts say the ice, where the bears spend much of their time as they hunt on the surface, is melting earlier in the year due to climate change, so they have to spend longer on land.

This means more bears are packed together on coasts and islands and will face more competition from each other due to the lack of food on land.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature believes there are about 26,000 polar bears in the Arctic, with a long-term “potential for large reductions” due to ice loss.

Polar bears on Wrangel Island
Image:Changing ice conditions are responsible for the surge in polar bears seen on land. Pic: AFP/Getty Images/A Gruzdev

Wrangel Island, off the coast of Russia’s Chukotka region, is where polar bears rest after ice melts in early-August until November, when they can leave land to hunt for seals.

Compared with 20 years ago, they now spend on average a month longer on Wrangel Island, according to studies.

Scientist Eric Regehr, from the University of Washington, said “ice is melting earlier and the ice-free period is longer”.

Changing ice conditions could be responsible for the increasing number of bears flocking there, Mr Regehr said.

He said the number of bears seen this autumn was 589, far more than previous estimates of 200-300, and he called the latest figure “anomalously high”.

  • This article first appeared on Sky NEWS