Study Shows Polar Bears Sometimes Use Tools to Kill Walruses

An engraving of a polar bear hurling a rock at a walrus from Charles Francis Hall's 1865 book Arctic researches, and life among the Esquimaux. ( Smithsonian Libraries/Public Domain)

Polar Bears Take Down Walruses by Hurling Rocks and Ice

by David Kindy/

In 1865, Arctic explorer Charles Francis Hall published an Inuit account of a polar bear attacking a walrus with a rock on Baffin Island in Canada. He even included an engraving of the bludgeoning in his book Arctic researches, and life among the Esquimaux.

“The bear mounts the cliff, and throws down upon the animal’s head a large rock, calculating the distance and the curve with astonishing accuracy, and thus crushing the thick bullet-proof skull,” Hall describes in his book.

Scientists have long dismissed these centuries-old claims of polar bears smashing the skulls of walruses with rocks and chunks of ice as myth and legend. Now, Canadian researchers have found evidence to corroborate the Indigenous knowledge.

Reviewing Inuit accounts over the past 200 years, lead author Ian Stirling, a biologist at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and his team report in a new study that while rare, these attacks likely do occur. Published in the peer-reviewed journal Arctic, the research concludes that “polar bears may occasionally use tools to hunt walruses in the wild.”

“I have always been impressed with the accuracy and reliability of the observations of animals reported by experienced Inuit hunters, …read more:

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