- Leight: When males stand on their back legs, they can reach heights of 10 feet
- Weight: Males weigh up to 1,700 pounds and females weigh up to 850 pounds
- Life span: 15-18 years in the wild, 30 years in human care
- Diet: Carnivore
- Range: U.S. (Alaska) Canada, Russia, Greenland, and Norway
Polar bears are the world’s largest land predators. They roam the Arctic ice sheets and swim in that region’s coastal waters.
Polar bears are at the top of the food chain in the Arctic. Aside from humans, the only threat to polar bears are other polar bears. They feed mainly on ringed seals and bearded seals. When the seal comes up for air, the polar bear kills it and flips it out of the water with a single blow of its paw. When no marine food is available, they feed on vegetation, but this is not their ideal diet.
Polar bears are classified as marine mammals because they spend most of their lives on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean. These giants of the north are very strong swimmers, using their large front paws, which are slightly webbed, to paddle,. Some polar bears have been seen swimming hundreds of miles from land—though they probably cover most of that distance by floating on sheets of ice.
Many of the polar bear’s physical adaptations help it maintain body heat and deal with its icy habitat. They have a thick layer of body fat and a water-repellant coat that insulates them from the cold air and water. This is especially important while swimming and during the frigid Arctic winter. The bear’s large size reduces the amount of surface area that’s exposed to the cold per unit of body mass (pounds of flesh), which generates heat.
Because of ongoing and potential loss of their sea ice habitat resulting from climate change, polar bears were listed as a threatened species in the US under the Endangered Species Act in May 2008.
- Polar bears have a very strong sense of smell, which they use to find seal breathing holes in the ice. Once it has found the hole, the bear will wait patiently until the seal comes up for air to attack.
- Unlike black bears and brown bears, polar bears do not hibernate during the winter months because that’s when sea ice forms, which the polar bears need to hunt seals.