Polar Bears

Polar Bears

Polar bears are huge meat eating carnivores that have adapted beautifully to life in the frozen and harsh arctic conditions. These huge beasts weigh up to 1,500 pounds and an adult male will stand 10 feet tall. Females are smaller and can weigh 300-650 pounds. Polar bears are found in Canada, Russia, United States, Alaska, Greenland and the Arctic Islands of Norway. Worldwide there are estimated to be about 25,000-27,000 polar bears all over the world.

The polar bears are the most nomadic of all bear species as they travel an average of 6,000 miles a year. Polar bears are very versatile and they are equally at home on land or in water. Thus it is not uncommon to find polar bears in coastal islands, coastlines and even in Arctic waters. Being exceptional swimmers, they have been seen swimming 100 miles away from the nearest land. They have a small head but powerful jaws and shoulders. They have webbed feet which helps them to swim and hunt for seal in the water. These bears paddle with their front feet while steering with their hind feet. The polar bear’s fur is designed in a way that helps it to keep warm even in freezing conditions. Their thick woolly fur that appears close to the skin keeps them warm, while the hollow guard hairs on the top keeps them dry by disallowing water seepage on to the skin. The white coat of the bear is a well suited camouflage in the snow and ice, while the skin underneath all that fur is actually black in color. A thick layer of fat just below the skin also aids them in keeping warm.

Polar bears surprisingly do not drink any water. They are strictly carnivorous in habit and hunt seals, walrus and small mammals. They have an immense capacity to eat and a polar bear’s stomach can hold up to 150 pounds of meat. They also scavenge whale carcasses and sometimes large numbers of polar bears congregate in areas where such carcasses are available. Polar bears also provide food for other dependent predators like the wild fox when they leave leftovers from their prey.

There are 2 main aims in the life of a polar bear – hunt for food throughout the year and preserve and conserve as much energy as possible. For this reason, male polar bears do not hibernate in the traditional sense of the word. While some of their body processes slow down, they still walk and hunt for food even during the lean months – this is a kind of ‘sleep walking’ for the huge bears. The female polar bears however do hibernate in the dens that they dig. They are able to start breeding from the age of five. They dig dens in November and remain sleeping till springtime. A female usually bears twins with each cub weighing 1 pound at the time of birth.  By the time the cubs are ready to face the outside world in spring, they weigh 15 pounds or more. They have a lot to learn from their mothers and will stay close to their mothers till they reach 2-3 years. When the mother is ready for her next litter, she will push the fully grown bears out to fend for themselves.

Chemical pollutants and global warming seems to be the two most damaging issues to the life of polar bears. Due to these, female bears are not able to produce healthy babies and mortality rates in the bear population have gone up. Oil exploration activities in the Arctic are another cause of worry as many bears abandon their dens and consequently die.

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