While polar bears mostly eat seals, a good-sized walrus would supply a hefty amount of meat. But walruses are huge, up to 2500 pounds, with thick skulls and dangerous tusks. To land a walrus, a bear must get creative. An account published in 1865 relays an Inuit tale of polar bears hunting walruses by taking the high ground and then throwing rocks down at the pinnipeds. Scientists scoffed at these stories, because bears don't use tools. Or do they? Ian Stirling of the University of Alberta, Edmonton, led a team of researchers looking into the possibility.
Stirling and his colleagues determined that polar bears clobbering walruses made sense. Their study cites the example of a five-year-old male polar bear named GoGo using objects as tools to get food in a Japanese zoo. The bear used sticks—as well as throwing a large tire—to knock down meals placed on inaccessible perches. According to the study, “GoGo demonstrated an exceptional and previously undocumented degree of conceptual creativity to facilitate access to a food item hanging from the air.”
“The most significant part of this is that a bear is able to look at a situation, think of it in a three-dimensional sense, and then figure out what it might have to do to be successful,” Stirling tells Ginella Massa of “As It Happens” on CBC Radio.