An Attack by a Polar Bear on a Juvenile Beluga

  • J.D. Heyland
  • Keith Hay
Keywords: Age, Amphipoda, Animal food, Animal mortality, Beluga whales, Biological sampling, Internal organs, Necropsy, Polar bears, Predation, Cunningham Inlet region, Nunavut


Cunningham Inlet, Somerset Island, in the Canadian Arctic is frequented each summer by large numbers of beluga (Delphinapterus leucas). They migrate to the head of the inlet, and then invade the mouths of the two streams which drain into it. … On 26 July 1974, a sexually-immature female beluga was discovered stranded on a gravel bar at the head of the inlet. Because it could not be manhandled back to water, and would have died from suffocating and dehydration, the whale was shot. The brown colour, shape of head and length (271 cm) of the animal suggested that it was between three and four years old, while the five to six growth layers present in the teeth indicated an age of 2½-3 years. The stomach was found to contain a few amphipods and some seaweed. The carcass carried deep but well-healed scars on the left dorso-lateral aspect caudal to the dorsal ridge. Their depth, and the fact that they were parallel in three cases, strongly suggested that the animal had been attacked by a large-clawed animal, probably a polar bear (Ursus maritimus). … To our knowledge this paper constitutes only the third documented account of an attack on a beluga by a polar bear in the Canadian Arctic …. [All previously reported attacks, including an attack of captive belugas near Churchill, are also discussed in this article.]