Hundreds of hungry polar bears were treated to a whale of a buffet last week when the carnivores descended on a whale carcass on the coast of Russia’s Wrangel Island.
The incredible sight was photographed by tourists on a boating expedition that was traveling through the Northeast Passage.
“We were cruising down the coast and saw a ‘herd’ or ‘convention’ of polar bears on/near the beach,” on Sept. 19, Rodney Russ, the expedition leader, wrote on his blog. Russ is the owner and founder of Heritage Expeditions, the New Zealand-based company that co-led the trip.
Russ immediately realized why the polar bears (Ursus maritimus) “of all ages, sexes and sizes” had congregated there: They were feasting on a dead bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), he wrote in the blog post. Russ counted more than 150 polar bears, although a statement issued by the Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve put that estimate at closer to 230 bears.
Intrigued, the tour group left their boat, the Akademik Shokalskiy (the same vessel that got stuck in Antarctic sea ice in December 2013) and boarded smaller vessels known as zodiacs to get a closer look at the seemingly ravenous bears.
“That is the memory we will all carry with us,” Russ wrote. “There are no words to describe it.”
It’s possible so many bears attended the impromptu picnic because they smelled the rotting whale. Polar bears can smell seals up to 20 miles (32 kilometers) away, according to the San Diego Zoo. When they’re not eating beached whales, the bears are known to eat ringed seals, walrus, caribou, grass and seaweed, the San Diego Zoo says.
Read More: Live Science