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.
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.