Polar Bear Caught in Act of Infanticide and Cannibalism

Posted Nov. 28th, 2009 by Daniel J. Cox

A male polar bear caught on the act of infanticide and cannibalism.

A male polar bear caught on the act of infanticide and cannibalism.

I’ve just finished the polar bear season in Churchill, Manitoba. It was a great year, fairly typical except for extremely warm temperatures. Along with the much above average temps, there was an additional event I’ll never forget. About two days into the trip we came upon a large male polar bear that was feeding on a small cub of the year. One of my associates had an obscured view of a group of polar bears behaving in an unusual and erratic manner. From a distance he saw several polar bears running wildly in a circlular motion. He drove the buggy over to the area and found this large male feeding on a very young cub of the year. He didn’t actually see the capture of the cub but surmised that’s what was going on when he witnessed the fast paced, erratic movement of a group of bears and then came upon the male feeding only minutes after the scene unfolded. These are very difficult pictures to look at and I originally hesitated putting them up on the web. So often bears of all kinds are demonized as horrific killers. In this situation this male bear fits that description. However, this is a very unusual and  rare event. I decided to publish these images only after very careful research and insight by several world-renowned polar bear scientists that weighed in on the subject. It’s documented that this year in the Churchill region there have been four instances of male polar bears preying on cubs. For the nearly 30 years that Tundra Buggy Adventures has been operating in the Wapusk National Park or the Manitoba Conservation Wildlife Management Area, we have seen three instances of this nature. Typically one every ten years. So it does happen. However, this year there seemed to be a higher than normal number of these killings. There is concern that this may be a direct cause of the bears being stressed for food due to shorter time out on the sea ice where they hunt for seals. Two of the world’s foremost authorities on polar bear behavior have helped create a press release for the group I work with, Polar Bears International. You can download that press release by clicking on Polar Bear Cannibalism Media Release. I urge you to download this PDF to educate yourself about the science behind this event. Do more than most people and read facts from world authorities, not just the sensationalism most people search for and create by making uneducated assumptions of their own choosing. This PDF  will give you a scientific and truthful explanation to the event as best as it can be described. I’ve created a small gallery of photos for those interested in seeing nature in all its truthfulness and reality. I must warn you these are not easy images to look at. They are graphic beyond belief but they depict the reality of how climate change may be affecting these magnificent animals and the ecosystem they live in. Follow this link for photos to this event. Male Polar Bear Caught in the Act of Infanticide and Cannibalism. Find out more about Polar Bears and how we can all help save the habitat they live in and save the bears themselves from this dramatic change in the weather in the Arctic.

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There are 7 comments on this post…
  1. anne dagg againOn Jul. 31st, 2015

    Hi Daniel
    You have answered one of my queries before, for which thanks. I am now helping a film maker who is making a TV series about the behaviour of old animals, a topic I have written a book on. Do you know of any people working with polar bear communities who might know about specific behaviours of old individuals? If so, could you put us in touch with him or her?
    Thanks very much. Cheers, Anne

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 31st, 2015

      Anne, please email me at photos@naturalexposures.com and I will post you on the right direction.

  2. anne daggOn Sep. 26th, 2014

    I have heard that polar bear males could be killing young so that they can mate again with females when they come into heat and so have her produce a young fathered by themselves. (I don’t believe this.) This is thought by some (not me) that this occurs in lions. Do you think this is an evolutionary trait in polar bears?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 26th, 2014


      Male polar bears killing cubs is not unusual but what was unusual was how many times it happened the year that post was written. There’s no way to know for sure if this was related to climate change but scientists I work with have been predicting that this would be a more frequents occurrence when polar bears were forced to spend less time out on the ice. Time will tell.

  3. pheasant huntingOn Jan. 9th, 2010

    You have some great articles here. Thanks for all the work posting them. I’ll be back for sure!

  4. Otto OlsenOn Nov. 28th, 2009


    Nice photos!

    I have a question. I understand you didnt actually see the cub being killed by this polar bear. Could it be that the cub died naturally and then was being scavenged on?

    Have you or other photograpehers or scientists actually seen killing of polar bear cubs followed by cannibalism?

    Is the weather unstable and the temperatures in this region unusually high right now? Has the temperatures risen there the last ten years?

    Please answer me on e- mail if you have the time.

    I am about to write an article about polar bears for the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet and found your photos presented there today.

    Regards Otto Olsen.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Dec. 6th, 2009

      I did not actually see the cub being killed but another naturalist guide did see it from quite a distance. Yes, several of the scientists that work with Polar Bears International have documented infanticide followed by cannibalism. The weather for the past 3-5 years in Churchill at this same time of year has been incredibly warm compared to years past. I’ve been going there for nearly 20 years and it has changed dramatically over that period of time.

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