10 Facts About the Polar Bear
1. Polar Bears Are Classified as Vulnerable
Polar bears are classified as vulnerable by the IUCN because their population is declining, which is in large part due to the change of the Arctic Ocean. The ocean was primarily covered in ice, which is where many polar bears call home. Although they can survive on land, there is not enough land that is not inhabited by humans for the polar bears to move to, which unfortunately is causing the dwindling numbers.
Another threat is the increasing amount that humans and polar bears interact as a result of the loss of land. Humans generally do not hunt these animals, but will often kill to protect themselves from these massive beasts. Unfortunately, sometimes, these encounters hurt or kill the human involved as well. Oil spills also cause a lot of problems for these animals.
2. Their Habitat Is Largely Affected by Oil Spills
With an increasing amount of offshore petroleum installations and operations, there has also been an increasing amount of accidents involving oil spills. These oil spills end up being fatal for bears, their prey, and their prey's prey. Regardless of where an oil spill affects the food chain, it ultimately will affect polar bears. Oil spills do not even need to be close by to change the polar bear population, as they have far-reaching problems on the animals in that area and surrounding areas.
3. Polar Bears Are Patient Hunters
Polar bears spend over half their life hunting. Their favorite prey is usually ringed or bearded seals. These animals are abundant in fat, which is necessary for polar bears to consume to build its bulk and keep warm. These bears often hunt with little success. They only catch 10-20 percent of the seals that they hunt. Their success in hunting is usually affected by the time of year and weather.
4. New Mothers Do Not Eat or Drink For Months
When a female is pregnant, they will feed quite a bit through the summer and fall. Then as winter nears, they will build a den where she will give birth and care for her cubs until spring. They will dig a snow cave that is just large enough for them to turn around. She will stay there until snow covers the entrance, encasing them until it is time to leave the den. She will deliver her cubs in December.
Most polar bears give birth to twins, although some will have a singleton or triplets as well. The family will stay there until March or April. The entire time the mother will not eat or drink. Her sole purpose is to care for her cubs, since they are blind, toothless, and have short soft fur. They are born at only 12 inches long, which are approximately 30-35 centimeters. They are entirely dependent on their mother. Fortunately, their mother's milk helps them to grow rapidly. They will continue to nurse after they leave the den and will do so for about 20 months.
5. A Polar Bear's Fur Is Not Actually White
Although many believe that polar bears' fur is white, as that is what it appears, it is pigment-free and transparent. Each piece of hair has a hollow core that reflects light in the same way that snow or ice reflects light, which is why it gives off a white appearance. Some bears appear to be yellow since they are not as clean. They will look the whitest right as their fur molts in the spring. This process is completed late in the summer. Once their fur has molted, they will continue to accumulate oils, which will cause it to appear more yellow again.
6. Polar Bears Live Near the North Pole
Polar Bears live near the north pole and are perfect for arctic life. They do not live near the south pole. Due to their harsh climates, they go through long periods of fasting since their food source is scarce during this time. They do not own particular territories like most large carnivores since they need to travel long distances to find food, which is in large part due to their habitat continually changing as the ice melts and refreezes. They also may need to travel to large areas to find food.
Once a polar bear is ready to leave home, they do separate from their mother, which may mean they need to travel up to 1,000 kilometers to find a new hunting range. Although most polar bears stay within a few hundred miles of its home range, some have been known to travel much much further. One went from Alaska to Greenland.
7. Their Paws Are Designed To Survive In the Arctic Weather
Polar bears have huge paws that measure nearly 12 inches long or 30 centimeters. These large paws allow them to tread well on thin ice as they can distribute their weight. They also do not slip easily due to soft bumps that cover the bottom of their footpads called papillae. These black footpads grip the ice, and the tufts between their toes help out. If their feet slip, they may use their strong, sharp, curved claws that are nearly 2 inches long or 5 centimeters. These claws also help them as hunters.
8. Polar Bears Are Excellent Swimmers
Their paws are not just used to help them tread on top of the frozen land, but also help assist them in swimming since their front paws act as paddles and their rear paws act as rudders.
Polar bears are often classified as marine mammals because they spend a good portion of their lives on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean and the water surrounding these areas. Their fur is very water-repellent, and their thick layers of fat protect them from the cold water. They have a lot of endurance when swimming and have been known to swim for up to six miles.
9. Polar Bears Are Considered Marine Mammals
Due to their extended time in the water and on top of the ice, they are considered a marine mammal, which is much because they are so dependent on the ocean. They are the only bear to be regarded as a marine mammal as most live far inland and do not rely on prey found in the waters. Their bodies are very well equipped for the water from their paws to their fur that allows them to stay dry. They also have a thick layer of blubber that keeps them warm in the arctic sea.
10. Polar Bears Communicate With One Another Through Many Means
Polar bears often talk to each other through body language. When one is excited and wants to play, they may wag their heads at one another. If they feel offended, they may growl or grind their teeth. When a cub is scared, they will often smack their lips.
Occasionally two adults will fight. When they want to battle, they will lower their head and avoid eye contact. They may mouth or touch the other's neck, then back up and stand on their hind legs.
Mother bears often communicate with their babies. She will often rub her muzzle against her cub's muzzle to show affection and give comfort. If she is sending them a warning, she may utter a low growl, whereas if the mother is trying to warn her cubs, she may give a chuffing sound.
Polar bears are majestic looking beasts that grow very large. Yet, due to dwindling habitat are struggling to rehome to the inhabited habitat of the land near the poles. Through conservation efforts, we may be able to protect these magnificent beasts.
- Breen, Katie. “Why Is a Polar Bear Considered a Marine Mammal?” PolarTREC, Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S., 28 May 2014, www.polartrec.com/resources/fast-and-fun-fact/why-is-a-polar-bear-considered-a-marine-mammal.
- “How Do Polar Bears Communicate? PolarBearFacts.net.” PolarBearFacts.net, 20 Dec. 2017, polarbearfacts.net/how-do-polar-bears-communicate/.
- “Polar Bear.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund, www.worldwildlife.org/species/polar-bear.
- “Polar Bears.” Polar Bear Facts & Conservation - Polar Bears International, polarbearsinternational.org/polar-bears/.
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© 2018 Angela Michelle Schultz