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Polar Bears playing -- Hudson Bay Polar Bears

Known to scientists around the world as " Ursus maritimus" , which means in Latin "bear of the sea," the polar bear is actually the world's largest land carnivore.


Adult males measure 240-260 cm in total length and weigh 500-600 kg.

Polar bears are well adapted to their arctic surroundings. Their thick winter coats, with glossy guard hairs and dense, furry undercoat, and the thick layers of fat beneath their skin protect them against the cold. The guard hairs shed water easily, and after a swim bears usually shake themselves like dogs to decrease chilling. Polar bear hair is translucent (you can look through it) and reflects solar heat down to the base, where it is absorbed by the black skin. So actually they just look white!!!

The soles of the bears’ feet have small bumps and cavities that act like suction cups and help to keep them from slipping on the ice.

Polar bears have a keen sense of smell. They can locate seal breathing holes covered by layers of ice and snow 90 cm thick, or more, up to a kilometer away. Their eyesight and hearing are similar to those of a human.

Their normal gait is a slow, distance-devouring gait of about 5-6 km/h. They may gallop when chased. Although immature bears can run as far as 2 km, older bears seem to tire quickly because they are fat and well insulated, which causes them to overheat. When polar bears swim, they use only their front paws, whereas their rear paws trail behind, acting like rudders. Under water they keep their eyes open but close their nostrils. A polar bear may remain underwater for over a minute.

Polar bears are distributed throughout the coastal areas of the circumpolar Arctic. Although polar bears of both sexes and various ages may occupy dens during periods of cold or stormy weather, only pregnant females remain in dens throughout the winter. The young are born from late November to early January - usually twins, sometimes a single cub, rarely triplets, and extremely rarely, quadruplets. At birth, the cubs are only about 25 cm long and weigh less than a kilogram. Their eyes are closed at birth and they are covered with hair so fine that in some early descriptions the cubs were reported as being hairless.

Seal pups and their mothers constitute the main part of spring diet of polar bears, except for the nursing cubs. Besides hunting seals at breathing holes and birth lairs, bears stalk seals basking on land-fast ice or ice pans. During spring and early summer when seals are most accessible, a bear may catch one every four to five days. Polar bears feed most on ringed seals but also kill walruses, white whales, and narwhales.

Polar bears in areas like the Beaufort Sea may remain on the ice throughout the year, even building their dens in snow drifts on the ice. However, in much of the Arctic, and in Hudson Bay, most of the pack ice melts by mid- to late summer, and the bears are forced to spend from two to four months on shore waiting for the ice to freeze again. During this period, they live mainly on their fat stores and remain inactive over 80 % of the time to conserve energy. They will eat carcasses if they find them and, occasionally grasses and berries. Bears have even been seen diving for seaweed.

The family group breaks up when the cubs are almost 2.5 years of age. Occasionally, cubs remain with their mothers until they are 3.5 years old.

Male polar bears that die of natural causes commonly live to 20 years of age and females to their mid-twenties. In captivity one lived to be over 40, but in the wild 30 is rare.

The human hunter is the primary predator of the polar bear. In recent years hunters have killed less than 1000 yearly, of which between 600 and 700 are taken by Inuk and American hunters in Canada. (The current world polar bear population is probably 20.000-40.000, and the Canadian population likely exceeds 15.000)

Untanned polar bear pelts sell for $500-$3000 depending on their size and quality. This can be a significant portion of an Inuk hunter’s cash income. The annual economic value of the hunt and the hides is about $ 1 million in Canada. Polar bears are also highly valued as display animals in zoos and are one of the central attractions of the famous Moscow circus.

Bear meat may be eaten by humans and is used as dog food. However, polar bear meat is sometimes infected with trichinosis, so it should be cooked thoroughly before being eaten. Polar bear liver can also be dangerous to humans and dogs because of its high vitamin A concentrations.

Although polar bears do not stand in  immediate danger of extinction they face threats common to large predators: human encroachment on their habitat, illegal hunting, and toxic contaminants in their prey species.


Pol-Pairs Excellent Game

Check out THIS puzzle!
(with courtesy to the Arctic Institute)


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