I recently read an article about the plight of polar bears and the challenges they currently face, and you’ve probably seen images circulating on the internet of starving polar bears struggling to stand, let alone hunt and contend with the elements. Habitat loss, human disturbance and climate change are a combined threat. Alaska’s Arctic is rapidly overheating, experiencing the effects of climate change at twice the rate of the rest of the world.
According to scientists, in the next 50 years, the polar bear population may be reduced by two thirds. And this is because of climate change and the constant melting of ice in the Arctic, which has led to a decrease in body weight of bears, lower fertility and an increase in mortality among young species. Icons of the Arctic, many of us feel an emotional connection to them, even if we’ve never seen one in person. Some people know them as fierce predators, others have been lucky enough to witness this calm, friendly animal in the wild. Here are some observations that were taken by the scientists who study them, some of them cause genuine surprise, see more on this website.
Fact 1: The Largest Land Predator
Because they spend most of their lives on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean depending on the ocean for their food and habitat, polar bears are the only bear species to be considered marine mammals. Male polar bears can weigh up to 800kg and are twice the size of females. This, in addition to the fact that they can measure up to 3 metres long, makes polar bears the largest land carnivore in the world.
Fact 2: Strong Swimmers
Polar bears can swim for long distances and steadily for many hours to get from one piece of ice to another, developing speeds of up to 20 km per hour and able to dive and stay underwater for more than 2 minutes. The record swim was officially registered in the Beaufort Sea as 9 days, during which the female lost 20% of her bodyweight.
Fact 3: Ice Traveller
Polar bears are excellent swimmers, their massive front paws perfectly designed for propelling through the water between Arctic ice floes. But swimming comes at an energetic cost, and swimming any kind of distance is something bears in the wild generally avoid if they can. Open water ice-holes are the best places for seal hunting with these predators swimming on ice floes, even to the North Pole area.
Fact 4: The Loner That Is Not Against Friendship
Adults polar bears are known to live a solo life and do not tolerate infringement on their territory. That said, animals can develop wonderful bonds and researchers have occasionally observed a friendship between males polar bears that hunt together, explore and even slept in an embrace. Despite their reputation as aggressive predators, polar bears often demonstrate great friendships.
Fact 5: Curious Explorers
One of the main features of their character is curiosity. Animals sadly often visit human settlements, explore landfills, and taste garbage – often as they seek out food given the infringement on their natural habitat. Would it scare them to visit a casino and play some sverigeautomaten or something like that? Their curiosity has become a problem as they consume everything they find such as plastic, household chemical containers, engine oil or hydraulic fluid – all dangerous for them.
Fact 6: A Delicate Sense of Smell
The highly sensitive areas in the nose of the bear are 100 times larger than that of a person. This excellent sense of smell allows the predator to detect its prey, which can be located at a distance of 10-20 km away. That animal can also smell its food under a meter layer of snow or ice. At the same time, a smart and hungry polar bear can also be perfectly camouflaged on the snow, covering its black nose with its paw.
Fact 7: A White Beast with a Jet Black Skin
Under the snow-white fur of a polar bear, there is a jet black skin, as can be be seen on the animals head. The sun’s rays easily penetrate the skin through their hollow transparent hair, which is how they receive up to 25% of the required heat.
Fact 8: Sleep Preparation for the Pregnant Bears
In the fall, the pregnant females prepare for winter by digging shelters in the snow, while the rest are able to stick it out in the coldest weather. These dens have an entrance tunnel that leads into one or more oval-shaped chambers in which to give birth and take care of her cubs. During hibernation, an animal’s heart rate decreases to 45-28 beats per minute, and their body temperature remains unchanged. In the period from November to February, cubs are born and they stay with their mother until March or April.
Fact 9: A Newborn Weighs Only 800 Grams
A female polar bear gives birth to between 1-3 cubs. Cubs are born weighing only 500-800 grams on average and without any fur and can neither see nor hear. Polar bears make very caring and loving mothers.
Fact 10: Endangered Species
According to estimates by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in the near future, the polar bear population faces extinction with the main reason not poaching, but the constant melting of ice. Today, the global population of the polar bear is 20-25 thousand individuals.
Fact 11: Polar Bears Resort may to Cannibalism
Although about half of a polar bear’s life is spent hunting for food, their hunts are rarely successful. Polar bears are not picky about diet, although if given a choice between a seal and almost everything else, they will definitely choose a seal. However, in recent years, due to the intensity of climate change, the Arctic menu has declined significantly. More and more sea ice is melting, gradually taking away their natural polar bear habitat and rich hunting grounds. Capturing seals is becoming more and more difficult and the animals are being forced to look for other sources of food, including bird nests, and in the worse scenarios – resort to cannibalism. Bears hunting bears is not new though. They are known to sometimes eat their sick cubs. However, in recent years, experts studying polar bear attacks have noticed an increase in cannibalism, especially among bears that have been trapped on land.
Fact 12: Polar Bears Remain Invisible to Infrared Cameras
In addition to being powerful hunters, polar bears have the magical power of remaining invisible, at least when it comes to observing them with infrared cameras. Scientists have discovered this striking phenomenon during a flight over the Arctic, that was organised to verify the bear population numbers.
Fact 13: There Are Hybrids of Polar Bears with Grizzly Bears
In 2006, an American hunter went to the Arctic to hunt a polar bear. He, unfortunately, managed to do this but then noticed that the animal he had killed looked a bit strange. After analyzing its DNA, scientists found that this bear was a half polar bear and a half a grizzly bear. The bear possessed physical characteristics intermediate between grizzlies and polar bears, such as brown fur on its paws, long claws, and a grizzly-like head.
Fact 14: They Are Excellent Travellers
Polar bears occur in Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Russia, and Canada. Interestingly, they are not tied to any one place and migrate constantly, able to travel hundreds of kilometres from where they grew up.
Fact 15: Has No Rivals
The polar bear has no natural enemies (besides man) which gives it a lifespan of up to 25 years. One of the most interesting animals on our planet, it is important to save these beauties from the threat of extinction.
Author’s bio: The author of this article, Chele, is a freelance writer, entrepreneur and a big fan of wildlife and max-polyakov.photography. Her experience includes several expeditions to the North Pole, where she explored the specific of live polar bears there. During her free time, she volunteers at the animal shelter, travels and reads Dan Brown. Pics supplied.
My dream remains to hopefully see them in the wild one day.