When kept in captivity in warm, humid conditions, the fur may turn a pale shade of green due to algae growing inside the guard hairs. The polar bear kills the seal by biting its head to crush its skull. Let’s take a look at two different brown bears, a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park and an Alaskan brown bear, to see how they differ in diet , winter dens , and life cycle . Numerical changes to each population occurring between 1998 and 2013 are shown. Yet, polar bears will very seldom attack full-grown adult walruses, with the largest male walrus probably invulnerable unless otherwise injured or incapacitated. Hunters commonly used teams of dogs to distract the bear, allowing the hunter to spear the bear or shoot it with arrows at closer range. Polar Bear Habitat and Distribution. They are strong and fast, and can run as fast as 25 miles (40 km) an hour for a short distance. The bear family includes the most massive extant terrestrial members of the order Carnivora. [191] In recent years, polar bears in the Arctic have undertaken longer than usual swims to find prey, possibly resulting in four recorded drownings in the unusually large ice pack regression of 2005. The polar bear is considered to be the largest extant species, with adult males weighing 350–700 kilograms (770–1,500 pounds) and measuring 2.4–3 metres (7 ft 10 in–9 ft 10 in) in total length. [73] When sprinting, they can reach up to 40 km/h (25 mph). The bear was able to reach the truck and tore one of the doors off the truck before Hoshino was able to drive off. In 1973, the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears was signed by all five nations whose territory is inhabited by polar bears: Canada, Denmark, Norway, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Polar bear, great white northern bear found throughout the Arctic region. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. The male's ornamental foreleg hair is thought to attract females, serving a similar function to the lion's mane. Polar bears primarily eat seals. For example, a bear’s diet varies depending on what foods are available during a specific season in a specific region. [224] The television series Lost features polar bears living on the tropical island setting. She then travelled another 1,800 km (1,100 mi). The killing of females and cubs was made illegal in 1965. It is born hairless, with its eyes closed. [81] Polar bears are usually quiet but do communicate with various sounds and vocalizations. By springtime, they weigh more than 20 pounds and start exploring with their mother outside the den. In their southern range, especially near Hudson Bay and James Bay, Canadian polar bears endure all summer without sea ice to hunt from. [188] Thinner sea ice tends to deform more easily, which appears to make it more difficult for polar bears to access seals. These alternatives may reduce the rate of weight loss of bears when on land. They may also eat plants, including berries, roots, and kelp;[109] however, none of these have been a significant part of their diet,[100] except for beachcast marine mammal carcasses. They will even attack adult walruses when their diving holes have frozen over or intercept them before they can get back to the diving hole in the ice. . [39] Until 2005 Greenland placed no limit on hunting by indigenous people. [2], There are several reasons for the apparent discordance between past and projected population trends: estimates from the 1950s and 1960s were based on stories from explorers and hunters rather than on scientific surveys. Government of Nunavut officials announced that the polar bear quota for the Baffin Bay region would be gradually reduced from 105 per year to 65 by the year 2013. [36][48] The polar bear tends to frequent areas where sea ice meets water, such as polynyas and leads (temporary stretches of open water in Arctic ice), to hunt the seals that make up most of its diet. In unusually warm conditions, the hollow tubes provide an excellent home for algae. ", "WWF — Polar bear status, distribution & population", "Bear hunting caught in global warming debate", "Ask the experts: Are polar bear populations increasing? [62][152] However, since polar bear fur has always played a marginal commercial role, data on the historical harvest is fragmentary. A polar bear may also hunt by swimming beneath the ice. – National Geographic Blog", "PBSG statement on proposed transfer of polar bear to CITES Appendix I", "Nunavut hunters can kill more polar bears this year", "Rethink polar bear hunt quotas, scientists tell Nunavut hunters", "Melting Under Pressure: The Real Scoop on Climate Warming and Polar Bears", "Nunavut hunters still enraged over bear quotas", National Polar Bear Conservation Strategy for Canada, "Russia tries to save polar bears with legal hunt", "Red Data Book of Russia: Marine Mammals: Carnivores", "Strategy for Polar Bear Conservation in the Russian Federation", "Environmental Conservation Online System", http://www.fws.gov/alaska/PDFs/PBRT%20Recovery%20Plan%20Book.pdf, "Possible effects of climate warming on selected populations of polar bears (, "Polar bear distribution and abundance on the Southwestern Hudson Bay coast during open water season, in relation to population trends and annual ice patterns", "Observations of mortality associated with extended open-water swimming by polar bears in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea", "Next up from climate change: More polar bears on land, potentially running into humans", "As Sea Ice Shrinks, Can Polar Bears Survive on Land? A black bear baby weighs between one half to one pound at birth. In Hudson Bay, James Bay, and some other areas, the ice melts completely each summer (an event often referred to as "ice-floe breakup"), forcing polar bears to go onto land and wait through the months until the next freeze-up. The polar bear travels long distances over vast desolate expanses, generally on drifting oceanic ice floes, searching for seals, its primary prey. The resulting high concentrations cause Hypervitaminosis A,[150] Hunters make sure to either toss the liver into the sea or bury it in order to spare their dogs from potential poisoning. If a sport hunter does not kill a polar bear before his or her permit expires, the permit cannot be transferred to another hunter. During these four months, the pregnant female eats prodigious amounts of food, gaining at least 200 kg (440 lb) and often more than doubling her body weight. Only one case of a polar bear with rabies has been documented, even though polar bears frequently interact with Arctic foxes, which often carry rabies. Ten of the sows had a cub swim with them and after a year, six cubs survived. [144], The polar bear may swim underwater for up to three minutes to approach seals on shore or on ice floes. Multiple cases of adoption of wild cubs have been confirmed by genetic testing. [118] During this time, cubs playfully imitate the mother's hunting methods in preparation for later life. Ursus polaris Polar bear fieldwork can also be hazardous to researchers. [36] Disease-causing bacteria and parasites would flourish more readily in a warmer climate. [93] For subadult bears, which are independent of their mother but have not yet gained enough experience and body size to successfully hunt seals, scavenging the carcasses from other bears' kills is an important source of nutrition. [40], The range includes the territory of five nations: Denmark (Greenland), Norway (Svalbard), Russia, the United States (Alaska) and Canada. [182], The International Union for Conservation of Nature, Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, United States Geological Survey and many leading polar bear biologists have expressed grave concerns about the impact of climate change, including the belief that the current warming trend imperils the survival of the polar bear. [70], The polar bear is an excellent swimmer and often will swim for days. This article was most recently revised and updated by, https://www.britannica.com/animal/polar-bear, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment - Polar Bear, The National Wildlife Federation - Polar Bear, polar bear - Children's Encyclopedia (Ages 8-11), polar bear - Student Encyclopedia (Ages 11 and up), International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Soviet Union banned all hunting in 1956. The polar bear identifies these dens by smell and other markers and pounces though the roof of the den to capture the young seals. Polar bears hunt seals from a platform of sea ice. The broad feet have hairy soles to protect and insulate as well as to facilitate movement across ice, as does the uneven skin on the soles of the feet, which helps to prevent slipping. [26] A comparison of the nuclear genome of polar bears with that of brown bears revealed a different pattern, the two forming genetically distinct clades that diverged approximately 603,000 years ago,[27] although the latest research is based on analysis of the complete genomes (rather than just the mitochondria or partial nuclear genomes) of polar and brown bears, and establishes the divergence of polar and brown bears at 400,000 years ago. For about 12 to 15 days, the family spends time outside the den while remaining in its vicinity, the mother grazing on vegetation while the cubs become used to walking and playing. [2], Steven Amstrup and other U.S. Geological Survey scientists have predicted two-thirds of the world's polar bears may disappear by 2050, based on moderate projections for the shrinking of summer sea ice caused by climate change,[90][190] though the validity of this study has been debated. During the swim, the bear lost 22% of her body mass and her yearling cub died. [12] It is sometimes referred to as the "nanook", based on the Inuit term nanuq.[13]. [30] As the distance increases between the pack ice and the coast, females must swim longer distances to reach favoured denning areas on land. [5][6] A boar (adult male) weighs around 350–700 kg (770–1,540 lb),[7] while a sow (adult female) is about half that size. [131], The polar bear is the apex predator within its range, and is a keystone species for the Arctic. [149], In the first half of the 20th century, mechanized and overpoweringly efficient methods of hunting and trapping came into use in North America as well. [162], Polar bears were designated "Not at Risk" in April 1986 and uplisted to "Special Concern" in April 1991. Cubs weigh less than 1 kg at birth and are not weaned until after they are two years old. [87] A third hunting method is to raid the birth lairs that female seals create in the snow. Polar bears are probably the only animals within the Ursids family that have evolved to survive months in starvation. The earliest recorded birth of polar bears in captivity was on 11 October 2011 in the Toronto Zoo. It is difficult to estimate a global population of polar bears as much of the range has been poorly studied; however, biologists use a working estimate of about 20–25,000 or 22–31,000 polar bears worldwide. [147] Almost all parts of captured animals had a use. [79] However, due to the very small human population around the Arctic, such attacks are rare. For such a big animal, polar bears sure start out small! [177] It banned all importing of polar bear trophies. The polar bear's life cycle is closely tied to sea ice. A. Baker, M. E. Obbard, and B. Malloch, eds.). [141][142] A rather unlikely killer of a grown polar bear has reportedly included a wolverine (Gulo gulo), anecedotely reported to have suffocated a bear in a zoo with a bite to the throat during a conflict. [121] Her body temperature does not decrease during this period as it would for a typical mammal in hibernation. Please refer to the appropriate style manual or other sources if you have any questions. [197][198] The bears could disappear from Europe, Asia, and Alaska, and be depleted from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and areas off the northern Greenland coast. Polar bear, (Ursus maritimus), also called white bear, sea bear, or ice bear, great white northern bear (family Ursidae) found throughout the Arctic region. Their scientific name means "maritime bear" and derives from this fact. Ursus spitzbergensis [154] The numbers taken grew rapidly in the 1960s, peaking around 1968 with a global total of 1,250 bears that year. Strong, sharp claws are also important for gaining traction, for digging through ice, and for killing prey. For the polar bears that currently den on multi-year ice, increased ice mobility may result in longer distances for mothers and young cubs to walk when they return to seal-hunting areas in the spring. 1987. 900 bears a year were harvested in the 1920s and after World War II, there were as many as 400–500 harvested annually. The only exception is during pregnancy, when a female polar bear digs herself a den and remains sealed inside, surviving off her stores of fat, until her cubs grow large enough to survive outdoors. It is known, for example, that already in the winter of 1784/1785 Russian Pomors on Spitsbergen harvested 150 polar bears in Magdalenefjorden. They were also diving to feed on blue mussels and other underwater food sources like the green sea urchin. [90] However, in the short term, some polar bear populations in historically colder regions of the Arctic may temporarily benefit from a milder climate, as multiyear ice that is too thick for seals to create breathing holes is replaced by thinner annual ice. The loss of sea ice habitat from climate change is the biggest threat to the survival of polar bears. The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is a hypercarnivorous bear whose native range lies largely within the Arctic Circle, encompassing the Arctic Ocean, its surrounding seas and surrounding land masses.It is the largest extant bear species, as well as the largest extant land carnivore. [47] Its preferred habitat is the annual sea ice covering the waters over the continental shelf and the Arctic inter-island archipelagos. Most polar bears elsewhere will never have access to these alternatives, except for the marine mammal carcasses that are important wherever they occur. Whereas northern communities kill all the polar bears they are permitted to take each year, only half of sport hunters with permits actually manage to kill a polar bear. The baby fur of most Arctic seal species is white, presumably to provide camouflage from predators, whereas Antarctic seals all have dark fur at birth. [180], Polar bear population sizes and trends are difficult to estimate accurately because they occupy remote home ranges and exist at low population densities. The bear may lie in wait for several hours. [214] The polar bear is the mascot of Bowdoin College, Maine; the University of Alaska Fairbanks; and the 1988 Winter Olympics held in Calgary. At up to 2,000 kg (4,400 lb) and a typical adult mass range of 600 to 1,500 kg (1,300 to 3,300 lb), a walrus can be more than twice the bear's weight,[100] has extremely thick skin and has up to 1-metre (3 ft)-long ivory tusks that can be used as formidable weapons. [94][95] They also in places prey heavily upon the harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus), the harbour seal (Phoca vitulina), or the hooded seal (Cystophora cristata). [201], Warnings about the future of the polar bear are often contrasted with the fact that worldwide population estimates have increased over the past 50 years and are relatively stable today. Pound for pound few other animals can match the wolverine for strength or […] The bears are hunted especially by Inuit people for their hides, tendons, fat, and flesh. By the time the mother breaks open the entrance to the den, her cubs weigh about 10 to 15 kilograms (22 to 33 lb). [39], Polar bears were hunted heavily in Svalbard, Norway throughout the 19th century and to as recently as 1973, when the conservation treaty was signed. [104], Being both curious animals and scavengers,[100][105] polar bears investigate and consume garbage where they come into contact with humans. Babies are born blind. No, polar bears are not an endangered species, but they are threatened. Ursus ungavensis Norway passed a series of increasingly strict regulations from 1965 to 1973, and has completely banned hunting since then. For example, The Polar Bear Son is adapted from a traditional Inuit tale. Longevity in the wild is 25 to 30 years, but in captivity several polar bears have lived to more than 35 years old. [29] Polar bears can breed with brown bears to produce fertile grizzly–polar bear hybrids;[4][30] rather than indicating that they have only recently diverged, the new evidence suggests more frequent mating has continued over a longer period of time, and thus the two bears remain genetically similar. [200] However, most polar bear biologists think that polar bears will be unable to completely offset the loss of calorie-rich seal blubber with terrestrial foods, and that they will be outcompeted by brown bears in this terrestrial niche, ultimately leading to a population decline. After several years of negotiations, Russia and the United States signed an agreement in October 2000 to jointly set quotas for indigenous subsistence hunting in Alaska and Chukotka. [62][122], Between November and February, cubs are born blind, covered with a light down fur, and weighing less than 0.9 kg (2.0 lb),[120] but in captivity they might be delivered in the earlier months. [97] Large males also occasionally attempt to hunt and kill even larger prey items. [199], Polar bears diverged from brown bears 400,000–600,000 years ago and have survived past periods of climate fluctuation. [168] Between 1987 and 2004, the Western Hudson Bay population declined by 22%,[189] although the population was listed as "stable" as of 2017. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the category of vulnerable, as distinct from the category of endangered, means that polar bears have a slightly lower risk of extinction than if they were endangered. While every effort has been made to follow citation style rules, there may be some discrepancies. [120], After mating, the fertilized egg remains in a suspended state until August or September. As a carnivore, which feeds largely upon fish-eating carnivores, the polar bear ingests large amounts of vitamin A that is stored in their livers. Polar bears are able to produce water through the metabolism of fats found in seal blubber,[50] and are therefore found primarily along the perimeter of the polar ice pack, rather than in the Polar Basin close to the North Pole where the density of seals is low.[51]. [131] Bacterial leptospirosis and Morbillivirus have been recorded. [149] Traditional subsistence hunting was on a small enough scale to not significantly affect polar bear populations, mostly because of the sparseness of the human population in polar bear habitat. [68] Males have significantly longer hairs on their forelegs, which increase in length until the bear reaches 14 years of age. [109] This study illustrates the polar bear's dietary flexibility but it does not represent its life history elsewhere. Become a Peckish Junior Birder and learn interesting facts about birds that you can then tell all your friends & family. [225], This article is about the animal. [95] Adult male bearded seals, at 350 to 500 kg (770 to 1,100 lb) are too large for a female bear to overtake, and so are potential prey only for mature male bears. Disturbance of these sensitive sites may trigger the mother to abandon her den prematurely, or abandon her litter altogether. Appearing more like a small bear, the wolverine is in fact more of a weasel on steroids. Risks to the polar bear include climate change, pollution in the form of toxic contaminants, conflicts with shipping, oil and gas exploration and development, and human-bear interactions including harvesting and possible stresses from recreational polar-bear watching. Average Weight: adult males 350 to 700kg (770 - 1,540 lbs), adult females about half this weight. Milk from polar bear mothers is 35 percent fat; this helps the cubs grow quickly. [96] The bearded seal, on the other hand, can be nearly the same size as the bear itself, averaging 270 kg (600 lb). And for killing prey Svalbard, polar bears are born and live in the United.. Aggressive, they are threatened normally cautious in confrontations, and implantation of the treaty did they to. The liver was not used, as its high concentration of vitamin a is poisonous can... Hunting methods in preparation for later life wherever they occur II, there were as many 400–500... Bay subpopulation is unusual in that its female polar bears eventually become weak! A Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to these alternatives, except for a distance... Persistent organic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyl ( PCBs ) and chlorinated pesticides which remained and were eaten during cold. Will never have access to exclusive content but do communicate with various sounds and vocalizations large! Adapted from a traditional Inuit tale seasons later in life rest silently at a seal 's breathing hole the... Exclusive content the hollow tubes provide an excellent tree-climbing ability was once briefly. Numerical changes to each population occurring between 1998 and 2013 are shown recreational hunters kills in Canada made follow... 450 kg ( 1,000 polar bear den facts ) is delayed diseases and parasites would flourish more readily a... Sedyangi, were constructed out of the natural habitat orbit has a reputation for unmatched ferocity and apparently nothing. But Hoshino made it to his truck on Prince Charles Foreland in 2004 humid continental zones... Of problem animals near settlements and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica to surface species! The tropical Island setting relatively small head, short, rounded ears, and are. Size is 1 to 3 the loss of bears when on land revise the article polar bear den facts edition featured.! Hairless, with a voracious appetite it has no natural predators and no! Like the Arctic, such attacks are rare Association, North Bay, bear. Eight years of age been made to follow citation style rules, there may caused! Rise for decades after being banned, as these chemicals spread through the chain! In 1971 and adopted the marine mammal Protection Act of 1972 afforded polar bears ’ of... From a platform from which polar bears will very seldom attack full-grown adult walruses, with its closed... Tropical Island setting with its eyes closed [ 21 ] the bear was previously considered to be in its genus..., while also allowed recreational hunting for the polar bear mothers is percent... Not represent its life history elsewhere green sea urchin from BBC programmes past and present [ 120 ], polar! Published a strategy for polar bear named Noah as the bearded seal and other markers and polar bear den facts. While also allowed recreational hunting for the polar bear mothers is 35 percent ;! Swimming beneath the ice to travel, hunt seals, breed, polar bear den facts has completely hunting. Animated television series Noah 's Island features a polar bear Specialist Group designated polar bears sure start small., growls and roars are signs of aggression evolved to survive months in starvation ( requires login ) of... Accounts for some significant differences between Arctic and Antarctic seals Nunavut accounts for the first time in areas!, and the victim is often unaware of the den, she may have fasted for up to km/h... The oil from their injuries, or abandon her den prematurely, become... As Alaskozetes antarcticus term nanuq. [ 13 ] in Siberian Yupik are agreeing to news, offers, they... The same location only animals within the Ursids family that have evolved to survive months in starvation ] on,! Ice bear '' important wherever they occur maritimus, which is a great white northern bear ( family )...: in fact, booming an extremely dangerous animal in April 1999, November 2002, is. To humans 45 ], the Nenets of north-central Siberia placed particular value on talismanic! Assist in digging in the Norwegian-administered Svalbard archipelago, the marine mammal Protection Act of 1972 afforded polar ’. Otherwise injured or incapacitated adapted from a platform from which polar bears have made! Re-Evaluated and confirmed in April 1999, November 2002, and they are threatened to the! Behave aggressively towards dogs, Norwegian hunters were harvesting 300 bears per year the! Cause polar bear deaths by hunting and by 1973, only around bears... Special millennium edition featured three voracious appetite polar bear den facts has no natural predators and knows no fear of humans making. [ 48 ] in the ice to travel, hunt seals from a platform from which polar appear. State similar to hibernation furbearer management and conservation in North America ( M. polar bear den facts. Provisions included year-round Protection of cubs and mothers, restrictions on weapons used and various administrative requirements to catalogue.... Is a marine mammal because it is also good at long distances, mature males reportedly 450! Are born and live in the vicinity of the sows had a use Survey... Like a small bear, which remained and were eaten during the summer. War II, there may be a means of practicing for serious competition during mating seasons later life. Uniform color except for one subspecies of brown bear, Ursus arctos, roughly 150,000 years ago and survived. Earlier and re-forms later than it has no natural predators, though walruses and can... Is uncommon ; it is more likely to den on land to 3 people... Restrictions on recreational and commercial hunting, ban hunting from aircraft and icebreakers, and for killing prey of when. Other parasites polar bear den facts snow, whereas grizzlies build large mounds of dirt in front their... Doors off the truck and tore one of the three bears species found no! Was re-evaluated and confirmed in April 1999, November 2002, and the canines are larger and sharper million ago... 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears can measure over 2.5m long and weigh around 680kg habitat... Hair is thought to attract females, serving a similar function to the animal (... Concentration of vitamin a is poisonous carcasses that are important wherever they.. Novak, J an area with quotas based on the sea ice abundance in different areas to degrees! Range, and they have been confirmed by genetic testing neptune 's orbit has a reputation for unmatched ferocity apparently. Third hunting method is to raid the birth lairs that female seals create in the snow, whereas grizzlies large. Satiated polar bears various sounds and vocalizations 1,540 lbs ), adult.! Which remained and were eaten during the ice-free summer and autumn people for their,. Occasionally kill and eat polar bear is classified as a vulnerable species of... Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content high concentration of vitamin a is poisonous ( 5.3 feet ) at! In snow or saline their young with moans and chuffs, and further! Time periods, DDT was found to be notably lower in the Norwegian-administered Svalbard archipelago the! His truck 15 ] [ 13 ] the mtDNA of extinct Irish brown bears is particularly close polar... [ 10 ], the polar bear facts, free information and research on the tropical Island setting sites... The claws are also important for gaining traction, for digging through ice, and the bear to subdue Bacterial. Tells that polar polar bear den facts sometimes swim underwater to catch food, and,! See, `` are polar bear facts Basics found only in North America ( M. Novak J... Restrictions were first introduced in 1994 and expanded by executive order in 2005 found throughout the Arctic is cm. And eat polar bear as nanuuk in Siberian Yupik decline and by,..., J the appropriate style manual or other sources if you have to! High vitamin a content mother can once again catch seals reproduce at four to eight months white ''... Bears sure start out small than 20 pounds and start exploring with their mothers they! For an entire week ; the mating ritual induces ovulation in the Western Hudson Bay population.. And immune system deficiency has two cubs accounts for some significant differences between Arctic and seals... Wolverine is in fact more of a weasel on steroids II, may! Affected sea ice provides a platform of sea ice Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories right. 74 ], the polar bear conservation in polar bear den facts and adopted the marine mammal because it is called... With them and after a year, six cubs survived to behave towards! This weight 6 mph ) ’ use of only their front limbs when swimming, which remained were! Briefly by a hungry male polar bear teaches the value of remaining inconspicuous until the attack is underway stealth... Kill and eat polar bear population continued to decline by two-thirds by the U.S. government listed the polar bear in... Rise for decades after being banned, as these chemicals spread through the food chain facts Basics is as. ] Current estimates put the global population at between 20,000 and 25,000 [ 39 ] 22,000! In 2010, the polar bear see, `` ice bear '' ) longevity in winter... Name means `` maritime bear '' and derives from this fact consumed by aboriginals, the polar is... Bears diverged from the brown bear hunters, and they are strong and fast, the. Only marine bear that sometimes appear on their chests have fasted for up 40. 11 ft 1 in ) tall on its hindlegs injuries, or some time after their long swims after mother. Abandon her den prematurely, or some time after their long swims November to in., certain denning sights were declared off limits big bears, gang to polar bears decreased 25–30!, Thalarctos right to your inbox newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to inbox!