Polar bear facts, pictures, video and in-depth information. The polar bear is the largest and most carnivorous of all bears. This distinctive all-white bear inhabits the Arctic sea ice, where it preys primarily on seals.
Despite its size and power, the polar bear is rated ‘Vulnerable’. This is largely due to a reduction in the area covered by the Arctic sea ice. Polar bears rely on the sea ice for hunting. When it melts they are unable to eat.
On this page you’ll become a polar bear expert as you explore the species’ amazing adaptations, behavior and life cycle.
Polar Bear Facts At A Glance
- Other Name(s): white bear, sea bear
- Scientific name: Ursus maritimus
- Type of Animal: Mammal, member of the order Carnivora
- Animal Family: Ursidae (the bear family)
- Where Found: The Arctic
- Length: (male) 2.4 to 3 m (7 ft 10 in to 9 ft 10 in); (female) 1.8 to 2.4 m (5 ft 11 in to 7 ft 10 in)
- Height: (at shoulder) 122 to 160 cm (4 ft to 5 ft 3 in)
- Weight: (male) 350–700 kg (772–1,543 lb); (female) 150–318 kg (331–700 lb)
- Conservation Status: Vulnerable
Polar Bears: Introduction
Found further north than any other species of bear, the polar bear is uniquely adapted to life in the Arctic. In this remote, frozen landscape, the polar bear is the apex predator (i.e. it is at the top of the Arctic food chain).
The polar bear’s scientific name is Ursus maritimus, which means sea bear. Polar bears are the only bear species considered to be a marine mammal. Polar bears spend most of their time in or around water. They are excellent swimmers and divers.
One polar bear, which was fitted with a radio collar, was tracked swimming 687 km (427 miles) in a single journey. The bear was at sea for 9 days (sadly during the journey she lost her cub.)
A polar bear can swim underwater for up to 3 minutes.
Polar Bear Facts: Related Animals
The polar bear’s closest living relative is the brown bear. There is some overlap in the range of the two species. They occasionally mate, creating brown bear / polar bear hybrids.
Alternative names for grizzly bear (a subspecies of brown bear) / polar bear hybrids include grolar bear and pizzly bear.
Interesting Polar Bear facts
- The difference in size between male and female polar bears is proportionally one of the largest of all mammals. Male polar bears are often twice the size of females!
- Underneath the polar bear’s white coat its skin is black – this helps to absorb heat.
- The older a polar bear, the yellower its coat becomes
- Whereas most bears are omnivores (i.e. they eat both plants and meat), the polar bear’s diet is almost entirely carnivorous. The polar bear is the most carnivorous of all bears.
- Polar bears have been seen 25 km (15.5 miles) from the North Pole!
Polar Bear Adaptations
A polar bear’s body has a number of adaptations for living in cold Arctic conditions.
A polar bear’s fur is the thickest of all bears. The coat is made up of a dense undercoat and a top layer of longer guard hair. This dual-layered coat provides waterproofing, insulation and protection.
Underneath its fur, a polar bear’s skin is black. This helps it to absorb heat. A thick layer of fat under the skin provides insulation and buoyancy.
A polar bear has extremely large paws. Reaching up to 12 in (31 cm) in width, they help to spread the bear’s weight when it is walking over deep snow or on thin ice. They also provide propulsion when the bear is swimming.
The pads of a polar bear’s paws are hairy and covered in small bumps to prevent the bear from slipping.
Acute Sense Of Smell
Like all bears, a polar bear has an acute sense of smell. It can sniff out a seal buried 1m (3ft) in the snow from 1.6 km (1 mile) away)! The polar bear’s sense of smell is more developed than its hearing and sight, both of which are similar to those of a human.
How Big Is A Polar Bear?
Polar bears are, on average, the largest members of the bear family. The largest males reach weights of around 450 kg (992 lb), and heights of around 3 m (10 ft.) when standing on their hind legs.
The Kodiak bear, a subspecies of brown bear, occasionally reaches sizes similar to (possibly even larger than) that of a polar bear. However, on average the polar bear is larger.
There is a large difference in size between male and female polar bears, with males often being twice the size of females.
Significant differences in the characteristics of males and females of the same species is known as sexual dimorphism. Polar bears are among the most sexually dimorphic of all mammals; only some pinnipeds (animals such as seals and walruses) exhibit greater sexual dimorphism.
Where Do Polar Bears Live?
Polar bears Polar bears inhabit the ice-covered water of the Arctic, together with the surrounding land and islands. They live further north than any other type of bear. In fact, polar bears have been spotted just 25km (15.5 miles) away from the North Pole!
The furthest south polar bears are known to venture is the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.
The countries in which polar bears are found are: the United Sates (Alaska), Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia.
Are There Polar Bears In Alaska?
Yes, there are polar bears in Alaska, as the video below shows! You can find out about polar bears and other Alaskan wildlife here.
Polar Bear Diet: What Do Polar Bears Eat?
Unlike other bears, the polar bear is almost entirely carnivorous. Seals make up the majority of its diet. Other animals, including birds, fish and crustaceans, are also taken, as is carrion.
What Seals Do Polar Bears Eat?
The seal species most commonly hunted by the polar bear is the ringed seal, followed by the bearded seal. Harp seals and hooded seals are also taken.
The polar bear does eat some plant matter, including berries and kelp.
Polar Bear Hunting Methods
The hunting technique most often used by the polar bear is known as ‘still hunting‘.
First, the polar bear will use its acute sense of smell to locate a seal breathing hole . It will then lie in wait for a seal to appear. Bears have been known to wait at the same hole for several hours.
When a seal appears, the bear uses its sharp claws to pull its prey out of the water and onto the ice. The bear will dispatch its prey with a bite to the head.
Polar bears will also stalk and pounce on seals, and dig out infant seals buried in their lairs beneath the snow.
Polar bears often travel large distances in order to find food. Bears that live in areas in which the sea ice melts for part of the year will not not be able to hunt during this time. These bears will live off of their own fat reserves until the ice reappears.
How Fast Can A Polar Bear Run?
Over short distances, a polar bear can run at up to 40 km/h (25 mph). Its usual walking pace is around 5 to 6 km/h (3.1 to 3.7 mph).
Do Polar Bears Hibernate?
Polar bears do not hibernate and are active all year round. In the autumn, pregnant females construct a snow den. They retreat to the den for three months in order to give birth and raise their cubs. In preparation for denning, a female may double her body weight.
A denning female will enter a dormant state, but will not hibernate.
Polar Bear Life Cycle
Polar bears are solitary, nomadic animals. They only come together in order to mate. Mating takes place on the ice during April and May. During this time a male bear, using its acute sense of smell, will seek out a female up to 100 km (60 miles) away.
Often, several males will track the same female. This will result in ferocious fights between the males in order to determine the dominant bear, who will then mate with the female.
Mated couples will stay with one another for around a week. After this time, the male will depart. He will play no further part in the rearing of the young.
Polar bear cubs are born between November and February. The female usually gives birth to two cubs. Newborn polar bear cubs are blind and weigh up to 0.9 kg (2.0 lb.).
The cubs are nursed on their mother’s fat-rich milk. By the time they emerge in late March they will weigh around 10 to 15 kilograms (22 to 33 lb.).
The cubs will stay with their mother for two to two and a half years. During this time she will protect them ferociously.
Are Polar Bears Endangered?
Polar bears are currently classified as being ‘vulnerable‘. Although not immediately endangered, polar bears are still in trouble.
How Many Polar Bears Are Alive?
Is it estimated that there are only around 20,000 polar bears in the wild. If you watch any large sporting event on television it is likely that there will be more people in the crowd than there are polar bears in the whole world!
Why are polar bears endangered?
The biggest threat to polar bears is climate change. The warmer the Earth becomes, the more sea ice melts. Polar bears are reliant on the ice to hunt seals.
Amazing Polar Bears Facts For Kids
- It is said that a polar bear covers up its black nose with snow when it is hunting. However, this behavior has never been officially observed!
- A polar bear can live up to 25 years in the wild.
- The surface of a polar bear’s paws are rough to stop them from slipping on the ice.
- Polar bears have small ears to conserve heat.
- Polar bears clean themselves by rolling around in snow.
- Polar bears have 42 teeth.
- The fur of a polar bear is water repellent.
- Even though they live in very cold conditions, a polar bear can overheat due to its thick fur.
- If polar bears get hungry and can’t find any seals, they will eat walruses, wales, birds and even reindeer.
If you want to learn about some more amazing animals, check out our Arctic Animals list.
Polar Bear Activities
- Pretend that you’re an Arctic explorer studying polar bears in the wild. Write a diary of your day following a polar bear. What did it do? Did you see it hunt for seals? Use the facts in this article to help you.
- Find out more about how climate change is bad for the polar bear population. Draw a poster to explain the importance of sea ice to polar bears.
- Help a polar bear charity such as Polar Bears International.
Polar Bear Facts: Related Pages
- Bear Facts: The Ultimate Guide To Bears
- American Black Bear
- Asian Black Bear
- Brown Bear
- Grizzly Bear
- Polar Bear
- Sloth Bear
- Spectacled Bear
- Sun Bear
- View awesome bear gifts, books and films at WildGateway.com