Reduction of summer sea ice extent has led some polar bear (Ursus maritimus) populations to increase their use of land during the summer/autumn open-water period. While terrestrial food resources are generally not sufficient to compensate for lost hunting opportunities on the sea ice, marine mammal carcasses, where available, could help reduce the energetic cost of longer periods of land use. Subsistence-harvested bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) remains are available annually near local communities along the Alaskan portion of the Beaufort Sea coast to bears that come to shore. Relatively large numbers of polar bears and some grizzly bears (U. arctos) use these resources, creating a competitive environment among species and social classes. We documented competitive interactions among polar bears and between polar and grizzly bears for bowhead whale remains adjacent to a small community in northeastern Alaska in September 2005–2007. We observed temporal partitioning of the resource by bears, with lone adult polar bears and grizzly bears primarily feeding at night, and higher use by polar bear family groups and subadults during dawn and dusk. Interspecific interactions were less frequently aggressive than intraspecific interactions, but polar bears were more likely to be displaced from the feeding site by grizzly bears than by conspecifics. Female polar bears with cubs were more likely to display aggressive behavior than other social classes during intra- and interspecific aggressive interactions. Our results indicate that grizzly bears are socially dominant during interspecific competition with polar bears for marine mammal carcasses during autumn.
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Vol. 96 • No. 6