Polar Bear

Ursus maritimus

Click to view a larger image. Click to view a larger image. mammal mammal

Museum specimen featured in the Wild exhibition
Source: Museum Victoria

Polar Bear
Image: Kennan Ward
Source: Corbis

Type: mammal

Polar Bear Polar Bear
Image: Kennan Ward
Source: Corbis

Conservation Status

Secure Vulnerable Endangered Extinct  ]

Climate change models predict major melting and fragmentation of arctic sea ice. This will disrupt the behaviour and biology of Polar Bears, forcing them into closer contact with people where they are vulnerable to hunting. The effects of pollution, declining food supply and human oil exploration are also major threats to this species. Just over 20 000 Polar Bears remain in the wild in 19 subpopulations.

WHAT THEY EAT

carnivore

Polar bears are carnivores.

They eat seals, walruses, reindeer, berries, grass and kelp.

HOW BIG THEY ARE

Polar Bear relative size depiction as described below

Size relative to a woman and an African Elephant.

Weight:
150–600 kg
Length:
2.4–2.6 m

Amazing Polar Bears

Polar bears survive in the coldest environments thanks to their dense fur coat and a thick layer of fat beneath their skin. Their webbed feet also help them to swim between patches of ice, sometimes for very long distances. The pads of their feet are bumpy to help grip the slippery ice. Under their white or yellowish fur, Polar Bears have black skin.

Most Polar Bears are born on land but spend much of their lives on the sea ice. They migrate to follow the distribution of ice and their prey, and in some areas of Canada they spend summer on land as the ice melts.

These bears are fierce predators with an astonishing sense of smell. They can smell seals over a kilometre away and beneath a metre of snow. Polar Bears are not territorial and are rarely dangerous to humans except when they are very hungry. When food is scarce they can conserve energy by slowing their metabolism.

Pairs mate in spring, but the fertilised embryos do not start developing straight away. In autumn, pregnant females dig a den and stay there in a hibernation state, giving birth to 1–3 young in early winter. The family remains in the den until spring.

Inuit people in Greenland and Canada still hunt Polar Bears sustainably for meat and fur. Hunting in former Soviet territory is probably unsustainable.

Did You Know?

Polar bears

  • are the world’s largest land-dwelling carnivores
  • can slow down their metabolism when food is scarce
  • can swim distances of 100 km

WHERE THEY LIVE

Polar Bear distribution map

Arctic Canada, Alaska, northern Europe and northern Asia. Polar bears live on the ice over land and sea surrounding the North Pole.

Photograph of a yellow plastic Tyranasaurus Rex