The Polar bear

Also called the Isbjørn in Norway meaning ice bear. The Polar bear is the world's largest terrestrial carnivore.

This remarkable polar animal has become a symbol of ice and snow in the northern areas of the world and is primarily found in the Arctic.

The world's polar bear population consists of 19 population counts and in total are about 25,000 bears. Populations overlap and the degree of genetic diversification is small. Among the 19 populations it is know that  eight are declining, three are stable, one is increasing, and seven lacks sufficient data to draw conclusions about development.
In Norway you can witness bears on Svalbard and in the icy waters around.

Adult males normally weigh 300-800kg, but in some cases can be up to 1000kg. Body length is usually about 250 cm, measured from the tip of the snout to the tail. A fully grown male can reach a shoulder height of 160 cm. The female is usually only half as large and usually weighs between 150-300kg. Body length is approximately 180-200 cm.

Polar bears have a thick layer of fat and thick fur. The hairs in their fur are hollow, heat insulating and water-repellent. They cover the entire body. It can easily withstand the extreme cold occurring in these areas. The fur looks white, but may be slightly golden brown because of oxidation during the summer. Actually the fur has no pigment, and is colorless (clear, shining). It appears to be white due to an optical illusion against the snow, called refraction. They can also appear slightly yellow due to their skin tone.


Like other bears, Polar Bears act in solitude for a large proportion of their lives. They have large wide paws, making it an excellent swimmer and able to spread their weight on ice. The soles on both the front and rear paws are tightly heavily coated, providing good insulation against the cold and also good traction when running on snow and ice. Feet are typically 30 cm long and 25 cm wide. The Polar bear when standing on its hind legs can achieve heights of between 240 and 330 cm.

The polar bear has 42 teeth. The teeth along the inside of the mouth are smaller than those of brown bears and less jagged, while the teeth at the front of the mouth are larger and sharper.

Polar bears closest relative is the brown bear, or more specifically a certain populations of brown bears. The relationship is in fact so close that science still debate whether polar bears are a separate species or merely a subspecies of brown bear. In 1981 it was established that the offspring of polar bears and brown bears were fully compatible.

It has since also established that the polar bear is a close genetic relative of certain populations of brown bears, even more so than some of the brown bear population are related to themselves.

This is an indicator that the polar bear must have in turn evolved from brown bears relatively late and that the genetics of a brown bear is more complex than previously thought.

Polar bears live largely alone, except during the mating season and when females have cubs to take care of. It also happens that polar bears accumulate when there is a carcass, whether it is killed by another bear or it shows up for other reasons. Such meetings can lead to fights, but smaller bears will usually pull away quickly when a larger bear arrives.

Polar bears use two primary techniques when they hunt. One is an insidious technique, where the bear crawls towards the prey and remain out of sight. Waiting near the seal's breathing hole for it to come up and breathe.

The second is that the bear swims through the channels in the ice drift in search of prey.
With its well-developed sense of smell, the bear can detect seals who are up to two meters under the snow and ice.

The bear uses its enormous weight and strength to catch prey, it does this by rising up on his hind legs and striking down on a specifc area of ice with its front paws. Polar bears are the only bear species that primarily feed on other animals.

The primary food source is ringed seals. They hunt however the bearded seal, hooded seal, harp seals and walrus. In addition, it also eats small mammals, such as foxes, birds and eggs, fish, and sometimes also arctic vegetation.
It is also a distinct carrion (carcass) feeder. A whale carcass can be a great meeting place for polar bears, which for days will be able to revel in the nutrient-rich blubber.

Polar bears will also eat waste from humans, making it potentially dangerous for people in places where bears and humans coexist.

Females mate from March to June every 2-4 years. She is pregnant circa 195-265 days and usually give birth to 1-4 young per pack. The femaile will dig out a winter den in October-November if she is pregnant, usually within a distance of eight miles from the coast. There she gives birth usually around the new year.

A polar bear cub weighs 600-700 grams normally when it is born, and the cubs are naked, blind and deaf. Feeding milk to their young well into the spring.

In the wild it is estimated that polar bears usually live to be about 25-30 years old. Other polar bears and humans are the only known predetors to these animals. The male will sometimes take polar bear cubs, which in turn influences a female bear with cubs usually avoid coming into contact with adult males. Polar bears have been traditionally hunted by Inuits for their meat and skins. Later, especially into the 1900s when the price of polar bear skins rocketed, they were also hunted by commercial trappers and hunters for sport's sake.

In 1973, the United States (Alaska), Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway and Russia agreed to protect polar bear habitats by limiting hunting and collaborating on research. In 1993, the total population of polar bears was estimated to be between 21,470 to 28,370 animals.
IUCN claim that bears belong to a low risk group, but that a conservation strategy is needed. There are also growing concerns about what will happen to the polar bears if global warming continues, since their habitat is being
indefinitely altered.



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