Polar Bear Habitat

Polar Bear Habitat

The polar bear habitat consists of the circumpolar Arctic. Polar bears prefer to stay near open water in the polar bear habitat, since their staple food is seal. Polar bears and polar bear tracks have however been found almost as far away from the Arctic Ocean as the North Pole. Studies does however seem to indicate that only a small number of bears venture closer to the pole than 82 degrees north latitude in the polar bear habitat. A majority of the polar bears can be found close to land and around the edge of the polar basin.

The southern range of the polar bear habitat is limited by the ice rim. The polar bear habitat will therefore be much bigger during a cold winter compared to the summer season. Global warming could lead to a rapid decrease of polar bear habitat. Today, the southern range of the polar bear habitat is typically found at St. Lawrence Island (Alaska, USA), southern Labrador (Canada), and Svalbard (a part of Norway, but located far from the Norwegian mainland at 78 N in the North Atlantic). During years that experience heavy ice, the polar bear habitat can however extend as far south as the Kamchatka peninsula (Russian Far East), Iceland, Newfoundland (Canada), and the Pribilof Islands (Alaska, USA). The southernmost part of the polar bear habitat that is home to polar bears 12 months a year is James Bay, Canada.

As mentioned above, the polar bears like to stay close to open water since the seal is one of their favourite preys. The polar bear is a very good swimmer that will venture far from land and pack ice during hunts. When we discus the range of the polar bear habitat, we should therefore keep in mind that polar bears have been reported swimming in the ocean more than 100 miles (160 kilometres) from any land or pack ice. The polar bear habitat includes not only Arctic mainland and pack ice, but also coastal islands and the Arctic waters.

The polar bear habitat has plenty of so called leads, and these are highly popular among the polar bears. A lead is a water channel or ice crack that can stay open and free from ice. A lead can sometimes be open for many months, while other leads are more short lived. The lifetime of a lead is determined by water currents and weather conditions. Another type of open water appreciated by the polar bears are the so called polynyas; areas of open water surrounded by ice. A polynya is formed by upwellins, winds and/or tidal currents. Polynyas will remain open throughout the Arctic winter. They attract birds and marine mammals who use them for feeding and breathing respectively, and this means that the polar bear have a high chance of finding prey at a polynya.

Current estimations show that there is roughly 20 000 polar bears to be found in the natural polar bear habitat. Polar bears are usually not divided into subspecies, but scientists recognize 15 relatively discrete subpopulations. The polar bear habitat of a subpopulation can overlap that of another polar bear subpopulation. The six most distinct groups of polar bears are found in six different regions of the polar bear habitat. These distinct polar bear habitats are:

1.) The Central Siberia polar bear habitat
2.) The Spitzbergen-Franz Josef Land polar bear habitat
3.) The Greenland polar bear habitat
4.) The Canadian Arctic archipelago polar bear habitat
5.) The Beaufort Sea polar bear habitat (northwest Canada and northern and northwestern Alaska).
6.) The Chukchi polar bear habitat (western Alaska and the Wrangle Island)

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