February 27th is Polar Bear Day! Let’s take a look at these unique bears on their special day.

Polar bears are named for their polar environment, which includes the Arctic Circle in the northernmost parts of the world. They are uniquely suited to dealing with their frozen habitat, with adaptations including a coat of white fur that keeps them warm and helps them blend in with their snowy, icy surroundings. They also possess a thick layer of fat that keeps them insulated from the cold. Their large feet and short claws help them navigate over ice, and they are excellent swimmers, able to swim for days at a time. They also have longer faces and necks than most bear species, which allows them to stick their heads deeper into holes in the ice in search of prey, such as seals.

 

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Wild Safari Polar Bear Wild Safari Polar Bear Cub Wildlife Wonders Polar Bear

 

Polar bears are the largest living species of bear. They can weigh over 1,500 lbs. and grow nearly ten feet long. In addition to seals, they are known to eat other animals including walruses and belugas, and will occasionally scavenge the carcass of bowhead whales. Most bear species are omnivores, meaning they eat both vegetables and meat, but the polar bear is almost exclusively carnivorous, eating only other animals. Despite this, they are not as overly aggressive as they are often portrayed to be, and typically prefer to avoid confrontation rather than attack a human. However, they should still be treated with respect and kept at a safe distance, as hungry bears who are less accustomed to interacting with humans can indeed be dangerous.

 

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Harp Seal Beluga Whale Bowhead Whale

 

Known as nanuk or nanook to the Inuit people of Alaska who share its habitat, the polar bear is a symbolic cultural figure that commands respect. The Inuit hunted polar bears for many centuries, using nearly every part of the creature, including its meat for food and its fur for clothing. Today, there are laws in place protecting polar bears from hunting on a wide scale, although some indigenous peoples are still allowed to hunt them in small numbers. It is believed by scientists that polar bear numbers are in danger of falling, with the main cause being habitat loss. Because of climate change, the sea ice that polar bears depend on for their hunting grounds melts earlier and earlier each year. Polar bears build up a layer of fat reserves that keep them from starving in the summer months when the ice melts and food is harder to come by.

 

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Arctic TOOB showing animals that share the polar bear's habitat

 

Polar bears are also threatened by high levels of pollution, which builds up in their layers of blubber, and oil spills which can destroy their habitat and ruin the bears’ insulating fur. Though polar bears are believed to number around 30,000 individuals, their numbers are projected to decline dramatically as their habitat warms and they are pushed further north into smaller areas. With melting sea ice, polar bears could also encounter humans more frequently, leading to an increase in dangerous confrontations. As polar bears are forced to deal with warmer climates, they also find themselves sharing their habitat with other bear species like the grizzly bear. When the two interbreed to create hybrid bears, it runs the risk of slowly breeding “true” polar bears out of existence.

What can you do to help? Spreading the word about polar bears is always a good idea, and groups like Polar Bears International and the World Wildlife Fund have more suggestions on how you can help protect the polar bear.

Bernie’s Bonus Fun Fact: You might have seen polar bears in videos sliding around on the ice, pushing themselves forward with their back legs. While it might look quite silly, it actually helps the polar bear to clean itself by rubbing it along the surface of the ice.

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