Hunting seals in thinning ice, polar bear breaks dive record in Norway

A gangling polar bear in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard was spotted diving underwater for more than three minutes -- far longer than has been recorded in the past, according to a report from CBC News.

The bear was spotted by a tour guide who filmed and timed the dive in an area where there wasn't enough ice to aid the bear with its hunt for seals, according to the CBC report.

In an interview with the news organization, Arctic guide Rinie van Meurs said that he usually sees bears hide behind chunks of ice to hunt their prey.

"Normally they would come up for air and use ice floes to cover themselves…or they keep stalking like a crocodile behind the ice," he told CBC News. "But this case, there was nothing, just one smooth open water…He kept swimming toward the seals and I was just thinking, 'this is never going to work,' because how are you going to get close enough to make that dive and then come up like a torpedo out of the water…and try to grab it?"

The bear may have been driven by desperation, said van Meurs, who collaborated with prominent polar bear scientist Ian Stirling to publish a paper describing the dive in Polar Biology in December. In 1974, Stirling recorded a polar bear diving for 72 seconds, the longest dive previously recorded.

The pair's paper concluded that the skinny bear was likely just an extreme case because, "polar bears cannot evolve increased diving ability rapidly enough to compensate for greater difficulty of hunting seals."

But it also stated that it is unclear whether this is anomaly at all, because the sparse records of dives in the past were also under different circumstances, such as when the bears were diving for fish.


Regardless, the weight of the skinny bear was enough to convince van Meurs to cheer for the animal, which -- despite the effort -- did not catch a seal.

"How cute seals are, of course, with the big black eyes," he told CBC News, "But I felt sorry for him. He really needed that seal."