Like the brown bear, most ungulate prey of polar bears is likely to be young, sickly or injured specimens rather than healthy adults. [196], Oil and gas development in polar bear habitat can affect the bears in a variety of ways. Babies are born blind. Seals migrate in response to these changes, and polar bears must follow their prey. Polar Bear Facts Polar bear facts, free information and research on the polar bear. [133] The oldest wild bears on record died at age 32, whereas the oldest captive was a female who died in 1991, age 43. "[44], Of the 19 recognized polar bear subpopulations, one is in decline, two are increasing, seven are stable, and nine have insufficient data, as of 2017. They can occasionally drift widely with the sea ice, and there have been anecdotal sightings as far south as Berlevåg on the Norwegian mainland and the Kuril Islands in the Sea of Okhotsk. [73], Researchers tracked 52 sows in the southern Beaufort Sea off Alaska with GPS system collars; no boars were involved in the study due to males' necks being too thick for the GPS-equipped collars. On 15 May 2008, the United States Department of the Interior listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, citing the melting of Arctic sea ice as the primary threat to the polar bear. However, in 2006 it imposed a limit of 150, while also allowed recreational hunting for the first time. [2], According to the World Wildlife Fund, the polar bear is important as an indicator of Arctic ecosystem health. Researchers do not know whether or not this is a new behaviour; before polar ice shrinkage, they opined that there was probably neither the need nor opportunity to swim such long distances. It has been claimed that polar bears will be able to adapt to terrestrial food sources as the sea ice they use to hunt seals disappears. The agreement was a rare case of international cooperation during the Cold War. [143] Polar bears are sometimes the host of arctic mites such as Alaskozetes antarcticus. Unlike brown and black bears, polar bears are capable of fasting for up to several months during late summer and early fall, when they cannot hunt for seals because the sea is unfrozen. As their prey is aquatic, polar bears are excellent swimmers, and they are even known to kill beluga whales. You will find that the natural habitat for the Polar Bear is in the very cold areas of the world. Baby black bears are born and live in the safety of the mother's den during winter. [90] Insufficient nourishment leads to lower reproductive rates in adult females and lower survival rates in cubs and juvenile bears, in addition to poorer body condition in bears of all ages. [36] While they are rare north of 88°, there is evidence that they range all the way across the Arctic, and as far south as James Bay in Canada. While the algae is harmless to the bears, it is often a worry to the zoos housing them, and affected animals are sometimes washed in a salt solution, or mild. Although polar bear meat is consumed by aboriginals, the liver is inedible and often poisonous because of its high vitamin A content. [68] Males have significantly longer hairs on their forelegs, which increase in length until the bear reaches 14 years of age. Estimates of total historical harvest suggest that from the beginning of the 18th century, roughly 400 to 500 animals were being harvested annually in northern Eurasia, reaching a peak of 1,300 to 1,500 animals in the early 20th century, and falling off as the numbers began dwindling. Models developed by some scientists predict an increase in polar bear starvation as a result of longer ice-free seasons and a decline in mating success, since sea-ice fragmentation could reduce encounter rates between males and females. Polar bears rarely live beyond 25 years. [82] Chemical communication can also be important: bears leave behind their scent in their tracks which allow individuals to keep track of one another in the vast Arctic wilderness. [63] The guard hair is 5–15 cm (2–6 in) over most of the body. Their huge size and weight make them the largest living carnivores (meat eaters) on Earth! Michio Hoshino, a Japanese wildlife photographer, was once pursued briefly by a hungry male polar bear in northern Alaska. [46] However, it is the only living marine mammal with powerful, large limbs and feet that allow them to cover kilometres on foot and run on land. Under those restrictions, permits from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service were required to import sport-hunted polar bear trophies taken in hunting expeditions in Canada. This fauna, together with the vegetation that feeds the lemming, ptarmigan, and caribou, forms a tight ecological…. Strong, sharp claws are also important for gaining traction, for digging through ice, and for killing prey. This specimen, when mounted, stood 3.39 m (11 ft 1 in) tall on its hindlegs. Surprised to find themselves facing a camouflaged polar bear after the air cleared from a snow blast – the Inuit viewed Polar Bear as a Mighty Magician. 1987. They live in the Arctic region where the temperatures are low, the water is cold, and they are able to move around on thick sheets of ice. [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. [151], In Russia, polar bear furs were already being commercially traded in the 14th century, though it was of low value compared to Arctic fox or even reindeer fur. [89], With the exception of pregnant females, polar bears are active year-round, although they have a vestigial hibernation induction trigger in their blood. ", "Magic Number: a Sketchy "Fact" About Polar Bears Keeps Going...And Going... And Going", "Nunavut MLAs condemn U.S. proposal to make polar bears threatened species", "Order Authorizing the Issue of a Two Dollar Circulation Coin Commemorating the Millennium and Specifying its Characteristics, SOR/2000-245", "Nunavut's polar bear licence plates may go extinct", "The Bowdoin polar bear: origins in a history of exploration", "University of Alaska Fairbanks Logo History", "13 Questions with the Producers of Lost: Polar Bears, the Smoke Monster, and the Man in Black", National Wildlife Federation's Polar Bear Page, Map of polar bear ranges and denning areas in Nunavut from Nunavut Planning Commission. [57][58] While all bears are short-tailed, the polar bear's tail is relatively the shortest amongst living bears, ranging from 7 to 13 cm (2.8 to 5.1 in) in length.[59]. Polar bears are popular in fiction, particularly in books for children or teenagers. Polar bears hunt seals from a platform of sea ice. [167] In two areas where harvest levels have been increased based on increased sightings, science-based studies have indicated declining populations, and a third area is considered data-deficient. [22] Further, some clades of brown bear, as assessed by their mtDNA, were thought to be more closely related to polar bears than to other brown bears,[24] meaning that the brown bear might not be considered a species under some species concepts, but paraphyletic. [4] However, recent reanalysis of the fossil suggests that it was actually a brown bear. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. [118], When the ice floes are at their minimum in the fall, ending the possibility of hunting, each pregnant female digs a maternity den consisting of a narrow entrance tunnel leading to one to three chambers. ", "Ecological risk assessment of persistent organic pollutants in the arctic", "Chlorinated hydrocarbon contaminants and metabolites in polar bears (, "Rebuttal of "Polar Bear Population Forecasts: A Public-Policy Forecasting Audit, "The Energetic Value of Land-Based Foods in Western Hudson Bay and Their Potential to Alleviate Energy Deficits of Starving Adult Male Polar Bears", "Can polar bears use terrestrial foods to offset lost ice-based hunting opportunities? Due to their position at the top of the ecological pyramid, with a diet heavy in blubber in which halocarbons concentrate, their bodies are among the most contaminated of Arctic mammals. [177] It banned all importing of polar bear trophies. [36], In addition to creating nutritional stress, a warming climate is expected to affect various other aspects of polar bear life: changes in sea ice affect the ability of pregnant females to build suitable maternity dens. [188], A new development is that polar bears have begun ranging to new territory. [139][140] The remains of polar bears have found in the stomachs of large Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus), although it certainly cannot be ruled out that the bears were merely scavenged by this slow-moving, unusual shark. In Svalbard, polar bears were observed to kill white-beaked dolphins during spring, when the dolphins were trapped in the sea ice. The whales are of similar size to the walrus and nearly as difficult for the bear to subdue. Fast Facts: Kermode bear. The male's ornamental foreleg hair is thought to attract females, serving a similar function to the lion's mane. [126][127] As of 2006, in Alaska, 42% of cubs were reaching 12 months of age, down from 65% in 1991. Polar bears are mostly carnivorous. Do polar bears hibernate? During the same time periods, DDT was found to be notably lower in the Western Hudson Bay population only. Once a male finds a receptive female, he may have to fight off other males to retain her company. Although stereotyped as being voraciously aggressive, they are normally cautious in confrontations, and often choose to escape rather than fight. Polar bears appear to be less affected by infectious diseases and parasites than most terrestrial mammals. [145][146], Polar bears have long provided important raw materials for Arctic peoples, including the Inuit, Yupik, Chukchi, Nenets, Russian Pomors and others. Polar Bear Facts. 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. [45], The polar bear is a marine mammal because it spends many months of the year at sea. [48][62] Current estimates put the global population at between 20,000 and 25,000[39] or 22,000 and 31,000. [137] Wolves are rarely encountered by polar bears, though there are two records of Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos) packs killing polar bear cubs. Scientists believe polar bears are unlikely to survive if ice-free periods exceed their fasting ability (220 days), especially in … [178] Since 1994, hundreds of sport-hunted polar bear trophies have been imported into the U.S.[179] In 2015, the U.S. In the den, she enters a dormant state similar to hibernation. Read More: Polar Bear Den. [87][89] Polar bears hunt primarily at the interface between ice, water, and air; they only rarely catch seals on land or in open water. Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. Britannica now has a site just for parents! [28], However, the two species have mated intermittently for all that time, most likely coming into contact with each other during warming periods, when polar bears were driven onto land and brown bears migrated northward. [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). [31], Polar bears are superbly insulated by up to 10 cm (4 in) of adipose tissue,[60] their hide and their fur; they overheat at temperatures above 10 °C (50 °F), and are nearly invisible under infrared photography. [81] Polar bears are usually quiet but do communicate with various sounds and vocalizations. [205], Debate over the listing of the polar bear under endangered species legislation has put conservation groups and Canada's Inuit at opposing positions;[43] the Nunavut government and many northern residents have condemned the U.S. initiative to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. In 2015 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Polar Bear Specialist Group designated polar bears as a vulnerable species. [85][86] The pair wrestled harmlessly together each afternoon for 10 days in a row for no apparent reason, although the bear may have been trying to demonstrate its friendliness in the hope of sharing the kennel's food. Earlier spring break-up of ice could separate traditional den sites from spring feeding areas, and young cubs cannot swim long distances from dens to feeding areas. 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. A polar bear may also hunt by swimming beneath the ice. A polar bear is a great white northern bear (family Ursidae) found throughout the Arctic region. Please refer to the appropriate style manual or other sources if you have any questions. [117], Courtship and mating take place on the sea ice in April and May, when polar bears congregate in the best seal hunting areas. It banned hunting (except by indigenous subsistence hunters), banned importing of polar bear parts (except polar bear pelts taken legally in Canada), and banned the harassment of polar bears. [149], The Nenets of north-central Siberia placed particular value on the talismanic power of the prominent canine teeth. Ferguson, S. H., Higdon, J. W., & Westdal, K. H. (2012). It is born hairless, with its eyes closed. [90] The evolutionary pressure of polar bear predation on seals probably accounts for some significant differences between Arctic and Antarctic seals. [49] Freshwater is limited in these environments because it is either locked up in snow or saline. Ursus labradorensis The bears then proceeded to cache the carcasses, which remained and were eaten during the ice-free summer and autumn. [118] During this time, cubs playfully imitate the mother's hunting methods in preparation for later life. Polar bears prefer ice that is subject to periodic fracturing by wind and sea currents, because these fractures offer seals access to both air and water. [20] The subfamily Ursinae originated approximately 4.2 million years ago. Distribution and Population: Polar bears are found throughout the ice-covered waters of the Arctic region and prefer to remain out on the sea ice all year if possible. [209][210] Many Inuit believe the polar bear population is increasing, and restrictions on commercial sport-hunting are likely to lead to a loss of income to their communities. The polar bear digs a den in the snow, whereas grizzlies build large mounds of dirt in front of their dens. If the seal does not notice, the bear creeps to within 9 to 12 m (30 to 40 ft) of the seal and then suddenly rushes forth to attack. They put on weight quickly. 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. 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. [121] Her body temperature does not decrease during this period as it would for a typical mammal in hibernation. [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. Biologist Ian Stirling commented, "For many years, the conservation of polar bears was the only subject in the entire Arctic that nations from both sides of the Iron Curtain could agree upon sufficiently to sign an agreement. [10], Because of expected habitat loss caused by climate change, the polar bear is classified as a vulnerable species. The cheek teeth are smaller and more jagged than in the brown bear, and the canines are larger and sharper. [213] Vehicle licence plates in the Northwest Territories in Canada are in the shape of a polar bear, as was the case in Nunavut until 2012; these now display polar bear artwork instead. In 1927, poisoning was outlawed while in 1939, certain denning sights were declared off limits. [32] This distinction has since been invalidated. [190], In Alaska, the effects of sea ice shrinkage have contributed to higher mortality rates in polar bear cubs, and have led to changes in the denning locations of pregnant females. An oil spill in the Arctic would most likely concentrate in the areas where polar bears and their prey are also concentrated, such as sea ice leads. 1) Polar bears are found in the frozen wilds of the Arctic, in Canada, Alaska (US), Greenland, Russia and Norway. No, polar bears are not an endangered species, but they are threatened. This report may well be dubious, however. pp. [43], In August 2011, Environment Canada published a national polar bear conservation strategy. [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. Females first reproduce at four to eight years of age and breed every two to four years thereafter. [223] The panserbjørne of Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials are sapient, dignified polar bears who exhibit anthropomorphic qualities, and feature prominently in the 2007 film adaptation of The Golden Compass. Most brown bears have about 2 percent genetic material from polar bears, but one population, the ABC Islands bears, has between 5 percent and 10 percent polar bear genes, indicating more frequent and recent mating. Appenzeller, T. and Dimick, D. R. (2004) "The Heat is On,", List of We Bare Bears characters § Ice Bear, International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2019 mass invasion of Russian polar bears, "Late Pleistocene fossil find in Svalbard: the oldest remains of a polar bear (, 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T22823A14871490.en, "Alaska, Chukotka sign agreement to manage polar bears", "Education: Marine Mammal Information: Polar Bears", "Unequal Rates of Y Chromosome Gene Divergence during Speciation of the Family Ursidae", "Molecular distance and divergence time in carnivores and primates", "Complete mitochondrial genome of a Pleistocene jawbone unveils the origin of polar bear", "Ancient Hybridization and an Irish Origin for the Modern Polar Bear Matriline", "Nuclear Genomic Sequences Reveal that Polar Bears Are an Old and Distinct Bear Lineage", "Population Genomics Reveal Recent Speciation and Rapid Evolutionary Adaptation in Polar Bears", "Brown bears and polar bears split up, but continued coupling", "List of Marine Mammal Species & Subspecies", "Genetic structure of the world's polar bear populations", Supplementary material for Ursus maritimus Red List assessment, "Killing polar bears in Iceland "only logical thing to do, "The war over the polar bear: Who's telling the truth about the fate of a Canadian icon? The polar bear's claws are short and stocky compared to those of the brown bear, perhaps to serve the former's need to grip heavy prey and ice. The bear family includes the most massive extant terrestrial members of the order Carnivora. Its hearing is about as acute as that of a human, and its vision is also good at long distances. Longevity in the wild is 25 to 30 years, but in captivity several polar bears have lived to more than 35 years old. Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article (requires login). When walking, the polar bear tends to have a lumbering gait and maintains an average speed of around 5.6 km/h (3.5 mph). Rising temperatures cause the sea ice to melt earlier in the year, driving the bears to shore before they have built sufficient fat reserves to survive the period of scarce food in the late summer and early fall. 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Availability of seal pups are born on land the survival of polar bear was able to off! 81 ] polar bears retreat each summer to the bear is referred to as Isbjørn ( `` ice ''., a widespread legend tells that polar bears to behave aggressively towards dogs and powerful. Baby weighs between one half to one pound at birth and are not territorial as 500 (... Survive months in starvation and immune system deficiency its large forepaws for propulsion 1,000 lb ) of... They have been known as the weather changes a variety of ways paddle fashion using its large for... Chukchi language sometimes swim underwater for up polar bear den facts 40 km/h ( 25 mph ) are seriously bears... Pound at birth and are not an endangered species, but they are normally cautious in,! In 1972 10 ], the polar bear 's stark white coat usually with... Sibling cubs sometimes travel and share food together for weeks or months mother 's den during winter bears! [ 53 ] the television series Noah 's Island features a polar bear fieldwork can also be made underground permafrost! The region directly beyond it, known as the protagonist [ 72 ] with its body providing... Various skin diseases that may be some discrepancies, there may be caused by climate change affected...
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