Where: Throughout Arctic – Greenland, Canada, Russia & especially Svalbard Archipelago, North Norway
Bear Facts: Polar Bears can smell a meal up to 30 miles away
Experience: Double the amount of bears than humans hunting in Svalbard, but take care not to scare a bear and bring a rifle, purely for self-defence.
Polar Bears are found exclusively in the northern Arctic, and abound in the northern extremes of Norway, such as the Svalbard Archipelago, where they number over double the human population. While staying in the settlements on Svalbard it is not unusual to see a Polar Bear wandering into town, in search of food, or just generally nosing around the research stations. If you come here to see the polar bears you are unlikely to be disappointed. They can also be found in northern parts of Greenland, Canada and areas of Russia within the Arctic Circle.
Apart from their colour, Polar Bears have much physical similarity to their relations, the Brown Bear of North America. They are large, stocky creatures, with forelimbs shorter than their rear limbs, resulting in their lumbering walk. They can also stand up upon their rear legs, but do so rarely. Polar Bears are renowned as the largest land carnivore, they are about 18 – 20ft in length and very heavy, females weigh about 440-660lbs, males about twice as much.
Face-to-face with bears
Despite the rumoured possibility that they can eat humans, they would generally prefer not to, though if provoked they can be very aggressive, and if starved of other food sources may raid human stores as an alternative, and could attack if startled.
If you do come across a hungry Polar Bear, be careful to do nothing to aggravate it, back away slowly and don’t run (it’ll take this as a sign to follow), if you have a rifle – which you should if you’re going out in wilderness alone – you should fire off warning shots first, and only if you are left with no other choice for your own protection, should you shoot the Polar Bear.
Food and hunting
Their preferred diet consists of seal, walrus, fish, sea birds and reindeer, and in summer, they will also eat berries and other vegetation. Polar Bears use a method of catching their prey called ‘still hunting’, which involves standing and waiting for a seal to emerge from an ice hole, or on the edge of an ice floe. This method is low in cost as far as energy expenditure is concerned, but highly inefficient, they have a low success rate for catching the seals when they do emerge, and often are forced to survive on as little as one meal a week.
Survival of the fattest
The Arctic environment in which the Polar Bears live has temperatures as low as minus fifty degrees centigrade, and spend much of their time drifting along on ice floes, and hunting in icy, snowy areas. In order to survive this, the Polar Bear, descended thousands of years ago from North America’s Brown Bear, has developed a number of impressive adaptations. Their size is particularly important, as larger objects lose heat more slowly, so the more a bear eats, the longer he can survive in the cold. They also have black skin, to absorb the warmth from the sunlight, and thick, white, water repellent fur, which traps warm air next to the skin when on dry land, and allows water to role off it when they have been swimming. Their large feet are furry, and partially webbed, working equally efficiently as snow shoes or as flippers. Their most unusual skill, but one essential to their survival is their amazing sense of smell – they can smell a dead carcass from many miles away, and a live seal three or four yards under the ice!
Polar Bears are largely solitary animals, but get together to mate once a year, usually in the summer. They will generally produce a small litter of two or three cubs, who are tiny when born (roughly the size of a rat), as well as blind and helpless, and are raised in a snow hole, close to their mother, until they are strong enough. to walk.
Bears under threat
Polar Bears are under a number of environmental threats, for example, oil spills from tankers have devastating effect on their health directly, as well as by dramatically diminishing their already limited food supply. Chemical pollution, especially organic pollutants such as PCB’s, have been found to build up in the fatty tissues of Polar Bears, gradually reaching such levels that they cause deformities to the sexual organs and sterility, threatening the reproductive capabilities of whole colonies. Another significant threat is global warming, which is gradually reducing the size of the polar ice caps, and making the Polar Bears habitat smaller and smaller. It also causes the ice floes to break up earlier each year, and making the polar bear’s hunting even more difficult, and making their struggle for survival through the long and difficult winter months even more challenging.
Polar Bears International
F or bear lovers everywhere, a site looking closely at the behaviour of and environmental issues surrounding these loveable animals.
Polar Bears, Polar Bears
A fact file and list of links to other Polar Bear related sites
The Polar Bear Web Fan Club
Apparently the only one there is! With Pictures, jokes, and a discussion forum where you can meet other polar bear fans!