The Furry, Fearsome Lords of the Arctic: 10 Facts About Polar Bears

Hey guys! So if you saw this episode you saw that we had a couple of “close” encounters with a couple of polar bears during the trip. And by “close” we mean we were still at least a hundred yards away from them, but hey! It’s as close as we’ve ever been to polar bears in the wild. Still close enough to get some very cool photos and some cool video! And yet still far enough away from them so we could view them from a safe distance and not disturb them too much. And wow! What a thrill!

During the trip we learned a lot about polar bears naturally, including a lot that we never really knew before. So we thought it’d be a fine idea to share some of our photos from our polar bear encounters, along with ten quick facts about these magnificent animals that’ll help you get to know them a little bit better. So! Check ’em out:

Polar bears are only found in the Arctic, and nowhere else (not even in Antarctica). They can be found distributed throughout the Arctic region, especially in Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway.

Polar bear we spotted from our Zodiac during a cruise around Monumental Island.

Scientists guesstimate the total population of polar bears in the wild to be around 26,000 or so. In some parts of the Arctic their numbers are decreasing, and in other parts their numbers are remaining relatively stable. But for the most part, the truth is we just don’t know all that much about their overall population trends, since a good census still hasn’t been taken across many of the Arctic regions where they live.

Still, it’s estimated that the overall number of polar bears will decline dramatically, perhaps as much as 30% in the next 30 years. That’s thanks to a number of serious threats facing the bears, the biggest of which is climate change. Rising temperatures around the world means that sea ice is melting earlier and forming later each year, leaving polar bears less time to hunt for food.

What’s sea ice got to do with polar bears? Lots! Although they are officially the largest land predators on earth, the bears get much – if not most – of their food by hunting seals out on the ice. They’ll wander across the ice looking for seal breathing holes (and wait for the seals to emerge), and/or they’ll hunt around the edges of the ice hoping to grab a seal that way. But without the sea ice, the bears will have a harder and harder time hunting the seals, and thus a harder and harder time staying alive.

A polar bear hunting a seal. Exhibit in the museum in Pangnirtung.

It helps that polar bears have excellent sniffers. In fact it’s believed that a polar bear’s nose can detect seals and other potential prey from as far as 20 miles away!

We said they are the largest land predators on earth? Well we mean large! Males can weigh as much as a thousand pounds, and females can clock in at more than 500 pounds! And when they stand on their hind legs, males can grown to almost 10 feet tall. And females, almost eight feet. They are big, big, big animals!

And believe it or not, despite their size polar bears are excellent, excellent swimmers. Individual bears have been seen swimming in open Arctic waters as far as 200 miles from land! In fact, during our cruise we spotted a bear swimming alongside our ship when we were roughly 50 miles from shore. And they can spend literally days out there swimming before taking a break. Which helps, especially because as the sea ice melts the bears have to travel farther and farther to get to it (and their food).

And no, the cold water (or the cold Arctic weather in general) doesn’t bother polar bears too much. That’s because in addition to their thick fur, they also have a layer blubber that insulates their bodies from the frigid air and water.

And here’s what may be the craziest thing you didn’t know about polar bears: polar bears might look white because of their fur (which is actually mostly transparent), but believe it or not polar bears actually have black skin underneath it all! Scientists believe it helps them stay warm by absorbing the sun’s rays. Crazy!

And yes! There is such a thing as a polar bear-grizzly bear hybrid, known as a grolar bear or pizzly bear. Yep! Look it up.

So, yeah. Polar bears are amazing, beautiful, fearsome creatures. And they need to be both respected and protected! And getting to see them in the wilds of the Arctic was a truly incredible experience. How about you? Ever seen a polar bear? Got any more cool facts to share? We’d love to hear ’em! Just let us know in the comments below.

Cheers y’all! Thanks as always for watching!

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