Polar bears, as their name suggests, are animals that are endemic to the North Pole. They are majestic animals on the top of the food chain, which have long adapted to survive the extreme cold in the Arctic Circle. However, these animals are now being reduced to nothing but mere skins and bones – and were the earliest symbols of the oncoming impacts of climate change. Due to global warming and the rapid melting of Arctic ice, polar bears are dying quickly, and if nothing is done rapidly enough, they may be gone before we even know it. Here’s everything you need to know about this majestic, yet threatened, animal.
ICUN status: vulnerable
Location: Arctic Ocean (Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland, and Norway)
Species: Ursus maritimus
Weight: 800-1,300 pounds (males), 300-700 (females)
Length: 6-9 feet
Polar bears’ diet consists mainly of seals as they require large amounts of fat to survive the cold climate. They can eat up to 10 to 20% of their entire body weight thanks to their giant stomachs; their bodies can use about 97% of the fat they eat. The massive mammal eats at least 50 seals a year, but because of the annual melting patterns of the sea ice, they can hunt only from November to July. When there are no seals available, polar bears opt to catch walruses and beluga whales.
2. Social Behaviour
Polar bears are talented swimmers for hunting and travelling long distances, and they are able to sustain a pace of six miles per hour by paddling with their front paws and holding their hind legs flat like a rudder. They also have a thick layer of body fat and a water-repellent coat that insulates them from the cold air and water.
Polar bears rely heavily on sea ice for many activities such as travelling, hunting, resting, mating and, in some areas, maternal dens.
An interesting fact is that most polar bears sleep between seven to eight hours at a stretch and often take naps just about anywhere, any time, and especially after feeding; making humans and polar bears rather similar when it comes to sleeping patterns.
3. Critical Species
Polar bears are at the top of the food chain and play an important role in keeping the biological populations in balance, which is a critical component to a functioning ecosystem. The species eat almost exclusively on seals, but if they can’t hunt for this food source due to lack of a sturdy ice platform or pure exhaustion, they will move on to other animals.
This could threaten the existence of other Arctic species, such as the Arctic fox or the walrus. Aside from the new, increased threat of being hunted as prey by polar bears, these Arctic animals will also have to compete for food resources with their predators. Scavengers like the Arctic fox and Arctic birds like the snowy owl depend on big kills from polar bears – feeding from the leftover carcasses – as sources for food as well. If polar bears are unable to kill seals, another food source for the wildlife will be cut out.
Without polar bears to control the seals’ population, the number of seals will subsequently increase, threatening the population of crustaceans and fish in the region, which is an important food source not only for seals, but also for other Arctic wildlife as well as local human populations.
Due to climate change, the Arctic is heating up twice as fast as anywhere else on the planet, shrinking the Arctic sea ice cover by 14% per decade. Compared to the median sea ice cover recorded between 1981-2010, we have lost about 770,000 square miles between 2011 to 2021, an area larger than Alaska and California combined.
As polar bears rely heavily on ice to survive, this leads to a drastic decrease in the number of the species In fact, a recent reassessment shows that there is a high probability that the global polar bear population will decline by more than 30% over the next 35 to 40 years.
Polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt seals, rest and breed. And when ice melts during summer and autumn, they come ashore and rely on fat storage until the ice refreezes so they can go back out to hunt. Due to the loss of sea ice, polar bears must travel longer distances to stay with the rapidly receding ice, and there is not enough food supplies during winter. To make things worse, sea ice now melts earlier in the spring and forms later in the autumn, meaning that they will starve even longer during these months. As the bear spends longer periods without food, their health declines. For every week earlier that the ice breaks up in Hudson Bay, bears come ashore roughly 22 pounds lighter and in poorer condition.
Even those who survive the starvation will suffer from heavy malnutrition, especially females with cubs. Unhealthy bears can lead to lower reproduction rates and extinction in certain locations. Scientists have found the main cause of death for cubs to be either lack of food or lack of fat on nursing mothers.
Along with sea ice loss, other potential threats to the species include pollution, resource exploration and habitat change due to development. Oil development in the Arctic, for example, poses a wide range of threats, from oil spills to increased human-bear interaction and conflicts.
5. Conservation Efforts
To protect polar bears, there have been numerous efforts taken up by different organisations. This includes the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which has been advocating for the establishment of protected areas in the Arctic, supporting Inuit-led management and conducting research to advance understanding of the Last Ice Area – where summer sea ice will persist the longest in the face of climate change, providing refuge for ice-dependent species.
Other than the WWF, the Polar Bear Specialist Group is also working to protect polar bears by funding the Hubbs-SeaWorld research, which aims to conserve and renew wildlife. There is also a special conservation group working within the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with a goal of coordinating, synthesising, and distributing scientific information necessary to guide the long-term viability of polar bears and their habitats.
Polar Bears International is also dedicated to the preservation of polar bears, conducting research and raising awareness of the plight of polar bears through educational programmes and by sponsoring programmes such as Save Our Sea Ice to facilitate efforts to reduce carbon, which will, in turn, save the polar bear’s habitat.
What Can We do?
There are many ways in which we can help save polar bears even when we are miles away from the Arctic Circle. We can donate money and even volunteer with any polar bear conservation organisations highlighted above. Another way to help polar bears is by helping fight climate change.
Burning fossil fuels is the leading cause of global warming and the melting of sea ice. One easy way to reduce fossil fuel consumption is making our daily commute a little greener. Simply carpooling or biking to work is already a small step in saving polar bears from extinction. We can also reduce our consumption of animal products and buy local produce when possible to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gas.
If you enjoyed this article about endangered polar bears, you might also like: Red Pandas: Endangered Animals Spotlight
These threats are: climate change, human-caused mortality, mineral and energy resource exploration and development, contaminants and pollution, shipping, tourism related activities, and diseases and parasites.What are 5 things polar bears eat? ›
Garbage, berries, seaweed and more
Polar bears may attempt to find alternate prey on shore, including muskox, reindeer, small rodents, waterfowl, shellfish, fish, eggs, kelp, berries and even human garbage.
Some ecologists warn that if something is not done quickly, polar bears can become extinct by 2025. Polar bears find their food on the icy surfaces where their white fur is not visible. This allows them to stalk seals that are swimming up to the surface through ice holes.What is polar bears biggest threat? ›
Threats. The loss of sea ice habitat from climate change is the biggest threat to the survival of polar bears.How long do polar bears live? ›
Their lifespan is about 20–25 years. 7. Where do polar bears live? Polar bears live in the Arctic, on ice-covered waters.Where do polar bears sleep? ›
The bears typically curl up and dig shallow pits in the snow, sleeping with their backs to the wind. For comfort, the bear uses one of its outstretched paws as a pillow and allows snow to pile up around it to provide extra warmth and insulation.Who eats polar bear meat? ›
Inuits (Eskimos) often eat polar bear meat, but strictly avoid consuming the bear's liver.What are 10 amazing facts? ›
- It is impossible for most people to lick their own elbow. ...
- A crocodile cannot stick its tongue out.
- A shrimp's heart is in its head.
- It is physically impossible for pigs to look up into the sky.
- Climate change. Climate change, and the loss of sea ice habitat, is the greatest threat to polar bears. ...
- Toxic pollution. As top predators, polar bears are exposed to high levels of pollutants through their food. ...
- Oil exploration.
Polar bears feed primarily on ringed seals, but will also eat bearded seals, harp seals, hooded and harbor seals, when available. Larger prey species such as walrus, narwhal and beluga are occasionally hunted.
The species ability to adapt is also in doubt. At the end of the last ice age, polar bears failed to move and survive on land, and instead migrated further north. "Foods that meet the energy demands of polar bears are largely unavailable on land," the study said.Can polar bears be saved? ›
We can all contribute to reducing climate change, and therefore help polar bears and other endangered species. A significant cause of climate change is the emission of polluting gases from burning fossil fuels, such as coal and oil. Fossil fuels are burned when we use electricity or drive our cars, among other things.Will polar bears go after humans? ›
As powerful predators, polar bears pose a major risk to human life and property. Throughout the polar bear's range, attacks on humans and property continue to rise. In recent years, more than 20 direct attacks on humans have been reported within the polar bear's range.Is polar bear the deadliest? ›
This mistake has frequently resulted in tragedy for both humans and bears. Grizzly and polar bears are the most dangerous, but Eurasian brown bears and American black bears have also been known to attack humans.How rare are polar bear attacks? ›
Polar bear attacks are exceedingly rare. Between 1870 and 2014, there were only 73 documented attacks by wild polar bears across Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia, and the United States, resulting in 20 human deaths, according to a 2017 study.Why are polar bears toxic? ›
Polar bears have lots of fatty tissue, so they accumulate lots of vitamin A, particularly in their liver. Like virtually any substance, vitamin A can be toxic in high doses.How old is the oldest polar bear? ›
Polar bears can live 20 to 30 years, but only a small percentage of polar bears live past 15 to 18 years. The oldest known polar bear in the Arctic lived 32 years. The oldest known polar bear in a zoological park lived 45 years.How big is the largest polar bear ever killed? ›
The largest polar bear on record, reportedly weighing 1,002 kg (2,209 lb), was a male shot at Kotzebue Sound in northwestern Alaska in 1960.How strong is a polar bear? ›
At 1,235 pounds per square inch, polar bears have a greater bite force than great white sharks, Bengal tigers and African lions. To put that number even more in perspective, the average strength of a human bite is a slightly embarrassing 162 pounds per square inch.How far can polar bears smell? ›
A polar bear's sense of smell is acute, and it is the most important sense for detecting prey on land. A polar bear can most likely smell a seal from more than 1 km (0.6 mi.) away and 1 m (3 ft.) under the snow.
Polar bears are strong swimmers; they swim across bays or wide leads without hesitation. They can swim for several hours at a time over long distances. They've been tracked swimming continuously for 100 km (62 mi.). A polar bear's front paws propel them through the water dog-paddle style.How many polar bears survive? ›
There are around 22,000 polar bears left in the wild, but man-made climate change and global warming are making life tough for these impressive, powerful predators—so saving the polar bears could be in our hands. We mustn't let them down.Do polar bears sleep for 6 months? ›
One animal that uses the hibernation strategy is the bear – in fall it builds up body fat stores so it can hibernate for approximately 6 months without eating and drinking.Can polar bears walk on two legs? ›
Like humans, polar bears have a plantigrade stance: they walk on the soles of their feet with their heels touching the ground first. Like other bears, they can also stand on their hind feet and walk upright for short distances.Are polar bears awake at night? ›
Also, polar bears and brown bears display nocturnal behavior. Polar bears and brown bears are considered crepuscular. Yet these bear species engage in nocturnal hunting behavior. One study also showed grizzlies killing most of their elk victims at night.Did you know WTF facts? ›
- There is a Mcdonald's on every continent except Antarctica. ...
- The world's termites outweigh the world's humans about 10 to 1. ...
- Sliced bread was invented a year after the invention of TV. ...
- 21. Japanese square watermelons aren't edible. ...
- Canned baked beans aren't baked, but stewed.
- Hot water will turn into ice faster than cold water. ...
- The Mona Lisa has no eyebrows. ...
- The strongest muscle in the body is the tongue. ...
- Ants take rest for around 8 Minutes in 12-hour period. ...
- "I Am" is the shortest complete sentence in the English language.
- AB negative is the rarest blood type.
- On average, the human heart beats 100,000 times a day.
- The strongest muscle in the body is the jaw.
- Fingernails grow faster than toenails.
- The average tongue is about three inches long.
Polar bears are the size of large brown bears. The largest males can weigh in excess of 1700 lbs, but the average is 600–1200 lbs and 8–10 feet in length. Adult females weigh 400–700 lbs.Are polar bears aggressive? ›
Polar bears and Grizzly bears are aggressive animals and have been known to attack and kill people. When food is scarce, Polar bears have been witnessed hunting for humans as prey.
Thanks to their protein-rich diet filled with seals, fish, and other common artic prey, polar bears are able to grow into large, muscular frames that are beneficial for both hunting and staying warm in well below freezing temperatures.What do polar bears not eat? ›
Polar bears do not eat penguins, since penguins live in the southern hemisphere and polar bears live in the northern hemisphere. This program is supported by the National Science Foundation.How long can polar bears go without food? ›
A DIET BALANCE THAT DEPENDS ON THE SEASONS
When the pack ice melts in summer, food becomes scarce. Male bears can live for about 6 months without eating. Over winter, female bears spend 7-8 months in their dens in the snow, suckling their cubs, and during that time they have no food intake.
Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
A: Yes. Bears do love honey and are attracted to beehives. But unlike in Winnie the Pooh, the bears eat more than just honey. They will also consume the bees and larvae inside the beehive, which are a good source of protein.
The largest threat to polar bears is the decrease in sea ice due to the changing climate. We all have a responsibility to reduce our energy use now to protect sea ice habitat for polar bears and other arctic wildlife.What can be done to save polar bears? ›
We can all contribute to reducing climate change, and therefore help polar bears and other endangered species. A significant cause of climate change is the emission of polluting gases from burning fossil fuels, such as coal and oil. Fossil fuels are burned when we use electricity or drive our cars, among other things.What would happen if polar bears disappeared? ›
Without polar bears to control the seals' population, the number of seals will subsequently increase, threatening the population of crustaceans and fish in the region, which is an important food source not only for seals, but also for other Arctic wildlife as well as local human populations.How are polar bears endangered by humans? ›
There are several human threats endangering polar bear populations; over harvesting, human development and loss of sea ice due to climate change are all reducing the bear's numbers and habitat.Can polar bears survive without ice? ›
Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) typically need sea ice to survive, so the discovery is raising hopes that some members of the species might survive the loss of ice caused by climate change. The group, consisting of 27 adult females, has adapted to hunting on the ice that has calved off glaciers — called glacial mélange.Can we save the polar ice caps? ›
According to the study, net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 (as laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement) combined with quick methane reductions, increases the odds of preserving Arctic summer sea ice this century from nearly zero to 80%. “If we do nothing, Arctic summer sea ice will likely vanish.
Polar bears are incredibly well insulated with both a thick layer of blubber underneath an even thicker layer of fur, but that's not all... They are incredibly well insulated with a layer of blubber that can be up to 10cm thick covered with another 15cm of fur.