Inuit hunters have talked about crafty polar bears for hundreds of years. But until recently, their stories about how they’ve seen these bears in the Arctic hurl hunks of ice, or large rocks, to knock their prey silly, have been written off as myth.
A 2021 study of such accounts – “from a diversity of locations and over a long period of time” – gives more credence that polar bears use objects as weapons, especially to subdue walruses that can grow to 2,000 pounds (907 kg). Accounts have consistently described seeing polar bears launching large projectiles, sometimes from cliffs, onto the heads of walruses. These Arctic beasts, apparently smarter than your average bear, then rush in to finish off the unsuspecting walrus.
More on animal intelligence:
- Inuit reports are numerous, such as an account from 1883 describing a bear that "seized a mass of ice in his paws, reared himself on his hind legs, and threw the ice with great force on the head of a half-grown walrus."
- The researchers conceded that "an occasional adult polar bear might be capable of mentally conceptualizing a similar use of a piece of ice or a stone as a tool," but maybe only on their largest prey.
- Animals using tools to solve problems has long been regarded as an indication of a higher intelligence – such as reports that elephants sometimes drop logs or large rocks onto electric fences to cut off the power.