Polar Bear

Polar bears are the heavy weight champions of the Arctic, with no natural predators except man. There are occasional reports of aggressive encounters between polar bears and either brown bears or wolf packs, but polar bears are the largest terrestrial land carnivore on Earth, measuring twice the size of a Siberian tiger! Males tip the scales at 770-1500 pounds and females at 700-800 pounds. Now that’s one big teddy bear!

Polar bear walking along coast

Polar bears are specially adapted to surviving in one of Earth’s harshest environments, the Arctic, and here’s how:

  • Dense under-fur and hollow guard hairs provide warmth
  • Short limbs and small ears conserve heat loss
  • Large feet (up to 12 inches across) help with swimming and distributing weight on the ice
  • Deeply curved claws for digging
  • Dermal papillae, or bumps on the pads of their feet, to prevent them from slipping on the ice
  • 42 teeth, including particularly large and sharp canines for eating meat
  • 10cm of blubber that keep them warm and confer buoyancy in the water

Polar bears have an amazing ability to sniff out their prey from great distances, whether the prey is on land or under thick snow or ice. For example, if a seal was swimming one metre under the ice, a polar bear’s olfactory sense of smell could detect them out one mile away. Polar bears can also run and swim really fast, especially for a mammal their size, reaching speeds of 40km/h on land and 10km/h in the water. Polar bears also have amazing muscular endurance enabling them to swim as far as 320 km from shore.

Did you know…Polar bears aren’t actually white? Their hairs are clear and the skin underneath is black! They look white because the transparent hairs reflect and refract the light.

Polar bears are pretty picky eaters; they feed mostly on ringed seals but they will also hunt other marine mammals like walruses and small whale species.

Unlike most bears, these Arctic champions don’t hibernate. Pregnant females will den but other polar bears remain active throughout the year.

polar bear habitat

Habitat

Although polar bears live along the coastal areas of the Arctic, including Greenland, Norway, Russia, and the United States, most of them are Canadian. In fact, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears live in Canada.

During the winter (November through April/May), polar bears live on the ice, fattening up on ringed seals. The winter months are a polar bears’ only time to eat. As spring approaches and temperatures rise, the sea ice begins to melt and break up so polar bears make the long journey to shore, often swimming marathon distances. When summer arrives, polar bears no longer have access to food so they have to live off of the fat reserves they built up during the previous winter.

Threats

Approximately 25% of all mammals on Earth are at risk, and polar bears are among those mammal species that are declining. Scientists estimate that about 15,500 polar bears are left in Canada, representing about 60% of the global population. That population size may seem, at first glance, to be a large number, but 28% of polar bears in Canada are facing high risk of steep declines of 30% or more within the next 36 years.

Loss of sea ice

spring sea ice

Loss of sea ice is the number one threat facing polar bears. Polar bears rely on Arctic sea ice, especially for hunting. Due to the effects of climate warming, Arctic ice is melting and breaking up earlier each year, making it increasingly difficult for polar bears to survive. Polar bears are used to dealing with parts of their habitat melting in the summer, but today the ice melts sooner and faster than ever before. This change in the timing of ice melting is making it more difficult for polar bears to hunt for seals from their floating ice platforms out on the water, and requires polar bears to swim longer distances, which is especially difficult for cubs who don’t have as much fat saved up to keep them warm and buoyant in the water. Scientists are also finding that challenges to polar bear hunting are affecting their health, as well as disrupting the ecosystem balance of the Arctic because polar bear and ringed seal populations are closely connected. Environmental problems that have a negative impact on one species are, in turn, affecting the other species.

Water pollution

Pollution also poses a big threat to polar bears. Research has shown that contaminants in the water are being stored in their fat tissue, which reduces the health of polar bears.

Status in Canada: Special Concern; also Threatened in Ontario

Take Action

Climate Change

You can help protect the polar bear by tackling climate warming one good green deed at a time. Every action you take has an impact on the planet, and by making choices like walking instead of driving, depending less on fossil fuels, consuming less manufactured goods, and by turning off the lights when you leave a room you are helping cut down on greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, sulfur and nitrogen oxides. These emissions are contributing to climate warming, and climate warming is melting the polar bears’ habitat and making it difficult for these champions of the Arctic to survive and raise young. Find out more with Danger Thin Ice.

Your donations will help buy satellite collars

Bring Back the Wild

Earth Rangers, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and generously supported by The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, needs your help to protect the polar bear! By starting a Bring Back the Wild™ campaign for the polar bear, you will be fundraising in support of environmental education and critical conservation work in Manitoba. Your campaign will help the Churchill Northern Studies Centre (CNSC), as well as Dr. Nick Lunn and his team conduct research on the polar bear. This Bring Back the Wild™ project will help researchers purchase satellite collars to study the polar bear’s range and movement patterns. You will also be supporting scientists who are studying the impacts of a warming Arctic and how changes in food sources are impacting polar bear populations.

Visit Bring Back the Wild™ to start your campaign to protect the polar bear.

To learn more about the polar bear check out these links:

Derocher, Andrew E., Nicholas J. Lunn and Ian Stirling. “Polar Bears in a Warming Climate”. Integrative and Comparitive Biology. 44:2(2004) 163-176
Species at Risk Public Registry
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Hinterland’s Who’s Who

Generously Supported By

The W. Garfield Weston Foundation

A Conservation Project With

Churchill Northern Studies Centre

Earth Rangers is a non-profit organization that works to inspire and educate children about the environment. At EarthRangers.com kids can play games, discover amazing facts, meet animal ambassadors and fundraise to protect biodiversity.
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Rating: 4.7/5 (20 votes cast)
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37 Comments

  1. 305604 says:

    that is so cool!!!!! you guys are so awesome , amazing , cool , sick .

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  2. LYLA123 says:

    The baby polar bear is soooooooo cute.

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    Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
  3. cupcakes77 says:

    we can do it

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    Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
  4. cupcakes77 says:

    we can do it together

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  5. lukem says:

    good job

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  6. lukem says:

    I love polar bears

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  7. Zenkitty says:

    i love polar bears so so so so! much

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    puffle2 Reply:

    i love it

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  8. Zenkitty says:

    good jod

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  9. nickt says:

    cuuuuuuttttte

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  10. lumbalumba says:

    These polar bears are amazing! I never knew so much about them!

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