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The Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) only lives in the arctic. They are big and powerful. Not an animal to messing about with.

Grizzly bear catches a salmon in a river.


Sign with rules on how to store your food in bear country.


You can only find polar bears along the shorelines, in the water or on the ice of the Arctic north. But sometimes you can also find them more inland. Like in Canada or Svalbard (Spitsbergen). They are the largest carnivore on land and they know it. They are smart, curious, not afraid and will always come close to investigate. They now they are the top predator. That said, they are normally not aggrasive.

Their big front paws have webbing between the toes which makes them really good swimmers. They are completely adapted to the cold and water and can stay in the water for a very long time. Hundreds of miles even. The fur is hollow. Air is trapped within the hairs which gives them a really good insulation. The skin is black which helps to soak up the sunrays. Underneath the skin is a big layer of fat to insulate him even further.

Their main food source is seals which they hunt by staying close to breathing holes in the ice. If one comes to the surface they try to grab it by the nose. But they eat any meat they find. So if there is a carcass of a whale or some other animals on the beach, they will eat that too.

Polar bears are usually alone. You might see some together when they are walking along a beach to wait for the ice to become thick enough. Like in Churchill Canada, which calls itself the Polar bear capital of the world. In other places you will see them together at for instance a whale carcass (which smells really bad and attract bears from all over the place). Or when they want to mate.


Polar bears usually dig a hole to take a long nap during winter time (hibernating). During that time the female gives birth. Normally there will be 2 cubs, like other bears. She will suckle them but does not eat. When spring arrives she has lost a lot of fat and really needs to go hunting.

There are about 23.000 polar bears left in the wild and are classed as vulnerable by the World Conservation Union and listed as a threatened in the USA. The general scientific assumption is that there is a decline due to global warming. What happens is that the ice is melting faster and retreating more to the north. Therefore the access to food is reduced which results in a drop in body condition. Basically they have less time to hunt and make enough fat to get through the winter. They also have to swim further, which burns even more fat.


Weight: 350kg (770 lb)-680kg (1,500lb)

Length: 2.5 meter (8,2 feet)

Mother black bear with 2 cubs along a river in Sequoia National Park USA
Black bear habitat worldwide map.

More detailed information about polar bears can be found on the following pages.



National Geographic

World Wildlife Fund

BBC Nature


Interesting places to see them

Svalbard (Spitsbergen), Norway

Churchill, Canada

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