The animals were perched on a glacier on Ivalo Island in Greenland, with icy water pushing their heads underwater, a report in National Geographic reports
A polar bear was caught on video drowning a reindeer after pouncing on it in a desperate bid to scoop up the animal’s body as ice melting around them swirled around.
The survival of the land mammal is under threat from global warming as more and more ice covering the arctic melts in response to warmer temperatures.
Some 61,000 polar bears are known to be roaming wild on the edges of the Arctic and most of the animals’ diet consists of seals.
It is difficult to know how many of the animals are alive on this lonely island, with wildlife officials only venturing there in January to count the large mammals, The Guardian reported in January.
Typically, polar bears go through the long, perilous trek on to the ice from neighbouring islands where sea ice appears, but those routes may prove too dangerous as the ice melts.
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The footage was captured by a video camera on Ivalo Island in the Arctic Circle, where the Reindeer Farm outside Nuuk, Greenland, is known to breed reindeer each autumn.
The farm is located in a remote area some 15km from the nearest village, the National Geographic reports. It is also about five times further south than the nearest town of Nuuk, the oldest and largest city in Greenland.
While the filmmakers took a boat to the island, the reindeer farm is not accessible by boat – only by all-terrain vehicles to allow for access in the driest months of the year.
The footage was shot by an unnamed environmentalist who used the well-known polar bear cameras that he’d found in previous expeditions. He boarded a Russian-made MI-36 aircraft loaded with cameras and then drove more than 25km south-west on foot to the reindeer farm.
He was surprised to see animals surrounded by ice and puffins – but no large numbers of the seals they are used to hunting.
“You see the ice where they were used to hunting, it’s gone,” the filmmaker told National Geographic. “The reindeer are leaning against the glacial cap, searching for something to eat. The ice is so thin you can’t see the glacial ice above. The animals appear to be trying to find a way to get above that.”
Those reindeer must have been exhausted, as by morning they were lifeless, the filmmaker added.
He tried to help the animals out of the glacial piles, but was forced to grab their heads when they started making a choking noise and sinking.
“It would not work, we threw lots of sticks into the water,” he added. “There were so many reindeer that they could not reach the poles, so they just had to swim.”
The filmmakers managed to stick sticks into the ice so the reindeer could swim to the netting holding the hunters’ kangaroo carcasses.
By this time the snow had melted away, exposing a red sea and a reindeer roasting nearby, his body covered in smudges of sunscreen as the animals tried desperately to shade themselves from the sun.
Play Video 1:37 ‘I’m not a polar bear’: polar bear beaches himself at Greenland wildlife camp – video
“When the tide was up they had nowhere to go, they were not waterproof,” said the filmmaker. “The weight of the animals, the amount of water used on the skin, and the weight of the heads and the body, was so much that it was killing the animal. The adults were probably already dead, the mother was probably in the tank with the young and the little seals.”
The footage was not of the bear trying to devour the reindeer, rather it happened as the predators fell in through the ice to catch them up.
“They would not have been able to do this because they are small, they are fast, and they swim like fishes,” said the filmmaker. “They would have been out of the water in a second.”
He added: “This bears did not choose to be caught this way, this is a survival of the fittest, a survival of the only.”