While all bears are short-tailed, the polar bear's tail is relatively the shortest amongst living bears, ranging from 7 to 13 cm (2.8 to 5.1 in) in length.. Longevity in the wild is 25 to 30 years, but in captivity several polar bears have lived to more than 35 years old. , Because of expected habitat loss caused by climate change, the polar bear is classified as a vulnerable species. The sea ice provides a platform from which polar bears can hunt.  In 2010, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment published a strategy for polar bear conservation in Russia. It is the largest extant bear species, as well as the largest extant land carnivore. Most maternity dens are in snowdrifts, but may also be made underground in permafrost if it is not sufficiently cold yet for snow. 2) These are seriously big bears, gang.  In the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, polar bears retreat each summer to the ice further north that remains frozen year-round. Researchers do not know whether or not this is a new behaviour; before polar ice shrinkage, they opined that there was probably neither the need nor opportunity to swim such long distances. The skulls of killed polar bears were buried at sacred sites, and altars, called sedyangi, were constructed out of the skulls. Males usually reach sexual maturity at six years; however, as competition for females is fierce, many do not breed until the age of eight or ten. Read More: Polar Bear Den. The bear may lie in wait for several hours. , For the indigenous peoples of the Arctic, polar bears have long played an important cultural and material role.  The subfamily Ursinae originated approximately 4.2 million years ago.  The pair wrestled harmlessly together each afternoon for 10 days in a row for no apparent reason, although the bear may have been trying to demonstrate its friendliness in the hope of sharing the kennel's food.  However, due to their lack of prior human interaction, hungry polar bears are extremely unpredictable, fearless towards people and are known to kill and sometimes eat humans. The body condition of polar bears has declined during this period; the average weight of lone (and likely pregnant) female polar bears was approximately 290 kg (640 lb) in 1980 and 230 kg (510 lb) in 2004.  Adult polar bears are occasionally vulnerable to predation by orcas (Orcinus orca) while swimming, but they are rarely reported as taken and bears are likely to avoid entering the water if possible if they detect an orca pod in the area. Ice melts earlier and re-forms later than it has in the past. , Polar bears were hunted heavily in Svalbard, Norway throughout the 19th century and to as recently as 1973, when the conservation treaty was signed. It was believed that the "little nephew" (the brown bear) would not dare to attack a man wearing the tooth of its powerful "big uncle", the polar bear. These areas, known as the "Arctic ring of life", have high biological productivity in comparison to the deep waters of the high Arctic. , The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 afforded polar bears some protection in the United States. Member countries agreed to place restrictions on recreational and commercial hunting, ban hunting from aircraft and icebreakers, and conduct further research.  Since 1994, hundreds of sport-hunted polar bear trophies have been imported into the U.S. In 2015, the U.S. , Steven Amstrup and other U.S. Geological Survey scientists have predicted two-thirds of the world's polar bears may disappear by 2050, based on moderate projections for the shrinking of summer sea ice caused by climate change, though the validity of this study has been debated. ", "Determinants of Home Range Size for Polar Bears (, "Polar Bear Ursus maritimus – APPEARANCE/ MORPHOLOGY: TAIL", "Fractures of the radius and ulna secondary to possible vitamin 'D' deficiency in captive polar bears (, "Population genomics reveal recent speciation and rapid evolutionary adaptation in polar bears", 10.1644/1545-1542(2005)86[895:SDOPB]2.0.CO;2. Ringed seals are born weighing 5.4 kg (12 lb) and grown to an estimated average weight of only 60 kg (130 lb). As their prey is aquatic, polar bears are excellent swimmers, and they are even known to kill beluga whales. BLACK BEAR CUBS. The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is the largest terrestrial carnivore in the world, rivaled in size only by the Kodiak bear.Polar bears play an important role in the life and culture of the Arctic Circle. In Hudson Bay, James Bay, and some other areas, the ice melts completely each summer (an event often referred to as "ice-floe breakup"), forcing polar bears to go onto land and wait through the months until the next freeze-up. Earlier spring break-up of ice could separate traditional den sites from spring feeding areas, and young cubs cannot swim long distances from dens to feeding areas. This bear is named after Francis Kermode, a provincial museum worker who was among the first to … Historically, the polar bear has also been known as the "white bear".  The oldest known polar bear fossil is a 130,000 to 110,000-year-old jaw bone, found on Prince Charles Foreland in 2004. The length of these swims ranged from most of a day to ten days.  As of 2015, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that the global population of polar bears is 22,000 to 31,000, and the current population trend is unknown.  Only once the spirit was appeased was the skull be separated from the skin, taken beyond the bounds of the homestead, and placed in the ground, facing north. Baby black bears are born and live in the safety of the mother's den during winter. , Concerns over the future survival of the species led to the development of national regulations on polar bear hunting, beginning in the mid-1950s. Polar bears rarely live beyond 25 years. , Their distinctive appearance and their association with the Arctic have made polar bears popular icons, especially in those areas where they are native. Ursus marinus The broad feet have hairy soles to protect and insulate as well as to facilitate movement across ice, as does the uneven skin on the soles of the feet, which helps to prevent slipping. , In the first half of the 20th century, mechanized and overpoweringly efficient methods of hunting and trapping came into use in North America as well. , The effects of climate change are most profound in the southern part of the polar bear's range, and this is indeed where significant degradation of local populations has been observed. It is born hairless, with its eyes closed. …strong swimmers, most notably the polar bear. , Polar bears were designated "Not at Risk" in April 1986 and uplisted to "Special Concern" in April 1991.  Many attacks by brown bears are the result of surprising the animal, which is not the case with the polar bear. (0.8% in the 1970s, 7.1% in the 1980s, and 14.6% in the 1990s) Nunavut polar bear biologist, Mitchell Taylor, who was formerly responsible for polar bear conservation in the territory, has insisted that bear numbers are being sustained under current hunting limits. One important adaptation of polar bears to their unique climate is the transparency of their thick fur, which allows sunlight to pass through and reach their black skin, where heat from the sun is then absorbed.  As the distance increases between the pack ice and the coast, females must swim longer distances to reach favoured denning areas on land. Surprised to find themselves facing a camouflaged polar bear after the air cleared from a snow blast – the Inuit viewed Polar Bear as a Mighty Magician. They are strong and can swim very well.  Polar bears hunt primarily at the interface between ice, water, and air; they only rarely catch seals on land or in open water. , Females begin to breed at the age of four years in most areas, and five years in the area of the Beaufort Sea. It has no natural predators and knows no fear of humans, making it an extremely dangerous animal. In 2015 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Polar Bear Specialist Group designated polar bears as a vulnerable species.  As of 2006, in Alaska, 42% of cubs were reaching 12 months of age, down from 65% in 1991. These were traded in the villages of the lower Yenisei and Khatanga rivers to the forest-dwelling peoples further south, who would sew them into their hats as protection against brown bears. Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article (requires login).  Fossils show that between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, the polar bear's molar teeth changed significantly from those of the brown bear. Updates? , More than 600 bears are killed per year by humans across Canada, a rate calculated by scientists to be unsustainable for some areas, notably Baffin Bay. The human-like posture of bears when standing and sitting, and the resemblance of a skinned bear carcass to the human body, have probably contributed to the belief that the spirits of humans and bears were interchangeable.  The 13 North American subpopulations range from the Beaufort Sea south to Hudson Bay and east to Baffin Bay in western Greenland and account for about 54% of the global population. Polar bears continue to be listed as a species of special concern in Canada because of their sensitivity to overharvest and because of an expected range contraction caused by loss of Arctic sea ice. Britannica now has a site just for parents!  A comparison of the nuclear genome of polar bears with that of brown bears revealed a different pattern, the two forming genetically distinct clades that diverged approximately 603,000 years ago, although the latest research is based on analysis of the complete genomes (rather than just the mitochondria or partial nuclear genomes) of polar and brown bears, and establishes the divergence of polar and brown bears at 400,000 years ago. Young polar bears testing their strength. , With the exception of pregnant females, polar bears are active year-round, although they have a vestigial hibernation induction trigger in their blood. Polar bears appear to be less affected by infectious diseases and parasites than most terrestrial mammals. , The polar bear has an extremely well developed sense of smell, being able to detect seals nearly 1.6 km (1 mi) away and buried under 1 m (3 ft) of snow.  When nervous, bears produce huffs, chuffs and snorts while hisses, growls and roars are signs of aggression. Polar bear fur is made up of a layer of dense underfur and an outer layer of "guard hairs", which appear white to tan but are actually translucent.The fur keeps them very warm.  Polar bears are especially susceptible to Trichinella, a parasitic roundworm they contract through cannibalism, although infections are usually not fatal. Because of their dependence on the sea ice, polar bears are classified as marine mammals. This behaviour, if it happens, is rare – although the story exists in the oral history of northern peoples and in accounts by early Arctic explorers, there is no record of an eyewitness account of the behaviour in recent decades. Males mature at about the same age as females but do not breed until a few years later. Encyclopaedia Britannica's editors oversee subject areas in which they have extensive knowledge, whether from years of experience gained by working on that content or via study for an advanced degree.... See how a polar bear preys on a walrus in this video. PCBs have received the most study, and they have been associated with birth defects and immune system deficiency.  However, since polar bear fur has always played a marginal commercial role, data on the historical harvest is fragmentary. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox.  Around the Beaufort Sea, however, mature males reportedly average 450 kg (1,000 lb). Black bear fur is usually a uniform color except for a brown muzzle and light markings that sometimes appear on their chests.  Polar bears are sometimes the host of arctic mites such as Alaskozetes antarcticus.  Further, some clades of brown bear, as assessed by their mtDNA, were thought to be more closely related to polar bears than to other brown bears, meaning that the brown bear might not be considered a species under some species concepts, but paraphyletic. Map of polar bear populations in the vicinity of the Arctic Ocean in 2013.  In 2010, the 2005 increase was partially reversed. Thawing of permafrost would affect the bears who traditionally den underground, and warm winters could result in den roofs collapsing or having reduced insulative value. But under their fur, polar bears have black skin—the better to soak in the sun's warming rays.  The panserbjørne of Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials are sapient, dignified polar bears who exhibit anthropomorphic qualities, and feature prominently in the 2007 film adaptation of The Golden Compass.  The proportion of maternity dens on sea ice has changed from 62% between the years 1985 through 1994, to 37% over the years 1998 through 2004.  Polar bear remains have been found at hunting sites dating to 2,500 to 3,000 years ago and 1,500-year-old cave paintings of polar bears have been found in the Chukchi Peninsula.  Cubs may hum while nursing. Multiple cases of adoption of wild cubs have been confirmed by genetic testing.  The hollow guard hairs of a polar bear coat were once thought to act as fiber-optic tubes to conduct light to its black skin, where it could be absorbed; however, this hypothesis was disproved by a study in 1998. The Inuit refer to the animal as nanook (transliterated as nanuq in the Inupiat language). A polar bear is a great white northern bear (family Ursidae) found throughout the Arctic region.  Traditional subsistence hunting was on a small enough scale to not significantly affect polar bear populations, mostly because of the sparseness of the human population in polar bear habitat. Once a male finds a receptive female, he may have to fight off other males to retain her company.  Polar bears are usually quiet but do communicate with various sounds and vocalizations.  Two genes that are known to influence melanin production, LYST and AIM1, are both mutated in polar bears, possibly leading to the absence on this pigment in their fur. Numerical changes to each population occurring between 1998 and 2013 are shown. The killing of females and cubs was made illegal in 1965.  Several animal species, particularly Arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus) and glaucous gulls (Larus hyperboreus), routinely scavenge polar bear kills. Ursus spitzbergensis Corrections? , Polar bears diverged from brown bears 400,000–600,000 years ago and have survived past periods of climate fluctuation. They still manage to consume some seals, but they are food-deprived in summer as only marine mammal carcasses are an important alternative without sea ice, especially carcasses of the beluga whale.  The treaty allows hunting "by local people using traditional methods". Because of continued global warming, a substantial reduction in the coverage of Arctic summer sea ice—prime habitat for polar bears—is expected by the middle of the 21st century. , Although the United States government has proposed that polar bears be transferred to Appendix I of CITES, which would ban all international trade in polar bear parts, polar bears currently remain listed under Appendix II. (2011). Most people are familiar with polar bears from visiting zoos or seeing the bear depicted in the media, but there are many misconceptions about this fascinating animal. Research of injury patterns in polar bear forelimbs found injuries to the right forelimb to be more frequent than those to the left, suggesting, perhaps, right-handedness. tyrannus was significantly larger than the living subspecies. The average cub litter size is 1 to 3. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1) Polar bears are found in the frozen wilds of the Arctic, in Canada, Alaska (US), Greenland, Russia and Norway. Then they begin the long walk from the denning area to the sea ice, where the mother can once again catch seals. The earliest recorded birth of polar bears in captivity was on 11 October 2011 in the Toronto Zoo. Estimates of total historical harvest suggest that from the beginning of the 18th century, roughly 400 to 500 animals were being harvested annually in northern Eurasia, reaching a peak of 1,300 to 1,500 animals in the early 20th century, and falling off as the numbers began dwindling.  Polar bears are thought to have diverged from a population of brown bears that became isolated during a period of glaciation in the Pleistocene from the eastern part of Siberia (from Kamchatka and the Kolym Peninsula). The polar bear kills the seal by biting its head to crush its skull.  During this time, cubs playfully imitate the mother's hunting methods in preparation for later life. Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. You will find that the natural habitat for the Polar Bear is in the very cold areas of the world.  For thousands of years, the polar bear has been a key figure in the material, spiritual, and cultural life of circumpolar peoples, and polar bears remain important in their cultures. , The International Union for Conservation of Nature, Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, United States Geological Survey and many leading polar bear biologists have expressed grave concerns about the impact of climate change, including the belief that the current warming trend imperils the survival of the polar bear. 900 bears a year were harvested in the 1920s and after World War II, there were as many as 400–500 harvested annually. Polar bears feature prominently in East (North Child in the UK) by Edith Pattou, The Bear by Raymond Briggs (adapted into an animated short in 1998), and Chris d'Lacey's The Fire Within series. , After mating, the fertilized egg remains in a suspended state until August or September. ", Of the 19 recognized polar bear subpopulations, one is in decline, two are increasing, seven are stable, and nine have insufficient data, as of 2017. While the algae is harmless to the bears, it is often a worry to the zoos housing them, and affected animals are sometimes washed in a salt solution, or mild. Females first reproduce at four to eight years of age and breed every two to four years thereafter. The 42 teeth of a polar bear reflect its highly carnivorous diet. They are strong and fast, and can run as fast as 25 miles (40 km) an hour for a short distance. Name: Kermode bear (often called spirit bear or ghost bear) Scientific name: Ursus americanus kermodei Average weight: 70 kg (females) 135 kg (males) but can reach 290 kg Shoulder height: 100 to 120 cm Average lifespan: Up to 25 years Did you know? Other concerns for polar bears include lethal response to human-polar bear conflict, toxic pollution in the environment, and direct impacts from industrial development, such as disturbance of maternal dens or contact with an oil spill, and potential overhunting of some subpopulations. Orbital Resonances. The polar bear digs a den in the snow, whereas grizzlies build large mounds of dirt in front of their dens. Black bears have short, non-retractable claws that give them an excellent tree-climbing ability.  This distinction has since been invalidated. , The key danger posed by climate change is malnutrition or starvation due to habitat loss. Ursus polaris Bears, however, lack the physiological characteristics (lower heart rate, body temperature, breathing rate, and blood pressure) exhibited by animals that truly hibernate. Young polar bears may die of starvation or may be killed by adult males, and for this reason female polar bears are extremely defensive of their young when adult males are present. Polar bear. " Cubs are especially playful as well. , Although seal predation is the primary and an indispensable way of life for most polar bears, when alternatives are present they are quite flexible. Models developed by some scientists predict an increase in polar bear starvation as a result of longer ice-free seasons and a decline in mating success, since sea-ice fragmentation could reduce encounter rates between males and females. , The relationship between ringed seals and polar bears is so close that the abundance of ringed seals in some areas appears to regulate the density of polar bears, while polar bear predation in turn regulates density and reproductive success of ringed seals. 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