6 Types of Fish Polar Bears Eat (Behavior & Hunting – Explained!)

Polar bears mostly hunt seals in their marine habitat. And since fishes are mainly available around, does this mean polar bears can also eat fish?

Yes, polar bears can eat fish. However, this is not their main meal since they love feeding on larger animals. They mostly eat fish when there is a scarcity of seals.

Still, these creatures don’t just eat any fish; Polar bears have preferences too!

Next, Let’s discuss in detail the different types of fish a polar bear eats.

Table of Contents

What Kinds of Fish Do Polar Bears Eat?

Polar bears can eat freshwater and saltwater fish. However, these mammals mostly prefer freshwater fish.

Some of the fish that polar bears can eat in the Arctic include:

  • Salmon
  • Arctic char
  • Arctic cod
  • Smelt
  • Herring
  • Whitefish


Salmons - Fish Polar Bears Can Eat

Many rivers and lakes that surround the polar bear’s habitat have salmon. Salmon is a freshwater fish.

Therefore, polar bears can spend time looking for them since freshwater fish are their favorites. Salmon comes with additional benefits to polar bears.

They contain a lot of protein and fats, which help polar bears to survive in the cold.

Arctic Char

Artic Char in Water - A Fish Polar Bears Can Eat

This fish is readily available in most of the lakes around the Arctic. What’s more, polar bears can access this type of fish without searching for long.

Another advantage is that the Arctic char is a cold-water fish. This means polar bears can easily pick them up on the shorelines of lakes or rivers.

The Arctic char also comes with health benefits for polar bears. They contain omega-3 fatty acids that help polar bears survive in the Arctic.

The Arctic Cod

This type of fish is almost everywhere in the polar bear’s environment.

Almost all the water bodies contain the Arctic cod. As a result, polar bears can eat these fish at any time.

Arctic cods also contain a lot of fats and proteins that are important for polar bears.


Smelt on Ice - Fish Polar bears Eat

These fish are small in size, unlike most of the other fish in the Arctic. However, polar bears still eat them on specific occasions.

In addition, polar bears can only eat smelt when there is a scarcity of seals. Polar bears can also eat smelt when salmon, Arctic char, and cod are unavailable.

Smelts are also in deep waters. Hence, polar bears can only eat them once in a while.

However, smelt also contains proteins that polar bears need.


Herrings - Fishes Polar Bears Can Eat

This fish is in fresh and salty water lakes in the Arctic.

However, Herrings are not always available for polar bears to eat because they stay in deep waters. Polar bears catch them when they come to feed on the surface of the water.

White Fish

White Fish Swimming = A Kind of Fish Polar Bears Can Eat

Whitefish directly come to the polar bears’ menu when seals are unavailable. In addition, polar bears can easily access white fish since they stay on the surface of lakes.

On some occasions, white fish is available on rivers.

How do Polar Bears Catch Fish?

There are several methods that polar bears use to catch fish. Some of these methods include:

  • Diving
  • Stalking
  • Ambushing


A Polar Bear Diving to Catch a Fish

Polar bears mostly catch fish by diving when the fish is far from the surface. In most cases, polar bears usually dive to catch Arctic char and salmon. Polar bears’ forelimbs help them in diving.

Their forelimbs are strong, and they play the role of paddling in the water. At the same time, hind limbs help in moving the bear sideways.

Interestingly, polar bears can reach fish from deep in the water. This is possible because they can hold their breath under water for around two minutes.

Additionally, polar bears can also swim at six mph (10km/h), making catching fish easy.


A Polar Bear Stalking

For shallow-water fish, polar bears can approach them slowly. In most cases, these mammals can observe the behavior of the fish for a while.

After some time, they can attack them with their mouth or paws once they are close enough. This particular fish-hunting method is known as stalking.


Ambushing is another popular method that polar bears use to catch fish. This method involves swiping the fish quickly as they swim mostly on rivers.

Polar bears love using this method, mostly during the migration of fish upstream.

When Do Polar Bears Eat Fish?

Polar bears eat fish on several occasions, depending on the happenings in the wild or captivity.

In the Wild

  • During Summer: At this time, the arctic waters are open, and fish are in plenty.
  • When There is No Prey: When there is less or no prey in the natural habitat, polar bears have fewer options. Therefore they choose to eat fish.

In Captivity

  • As a Training Reward: As trainers try to make these mammals perform certain things, they can feed them fish as a reward.
  • As a Supplement: In captivity, they can feed fish to polar bears as a supplement to improve their mental performance.

How Much Fish Do Polar Bears Eat?

Polar Bear Eating Fish

Adult polar bears can eat 20 lbs (9 kg) of fish in one day. However, these bears can only eat this amount of fish when they haven’t eaten for long. 

To be specific, If polar bears don’t lack food, they can eat less than 15 lbs (6.8 kg) of fish daily.


To sum up, polar bears can eat fish. However, these mammals can only actively eat fish if other foods are scarce.

Polar bears can eat several types of fish, like Salmon, Arctic char, Smelt, and Herring. 

Moreover, when hunting these types of fish, polar bears use hunting techniques such as stalking, ambushing, and diving.

Above all, scarcity of food can make polar bears look for other food sources. They might even go to areas they normally don’t go to.

Some polar bears have been spotted on cliffs and mountains hunting birds and eggs. Does this mean they can also climb mountains?

Read our article on 9 things you need to know about polar bears and their ability to climb mountains.