The polar bear’s Latin name, ursus maritimus, means “sea bear.” It is the only bear that is considered a marine mammal because it depends upon the marine environment for survival. It is the largest land carnivore in North America. Its long body, neck and skull distinguish it from other types of bears.
The polar bear is well adapted to life in the extremes of the Arctic. Its distinctive white coat acts as camouflage in the snow and ice. That’s important for polar bears as it makes them hard to see when they are stalking seals or trying to hide from hunters. Meanwhile, the soles of the polar bear’s feet have small bumps and cavities. These provide suction to prevent the bear from slipping on the icy terrain.
Polar bears spend most of their lives on sea ice, which they use as a platform to hunt their favorite food: ringed seals. A keen sense of smell is key to the polar bear’s success as a hunter, and these bears can detect a seal’s breathing hole in the ice from up to a kilometre away.
In Canada, polar bears can be found from James Bay to northern Ellesmere Island, and from Labrador to the Alaskan border. Churchill, Manitoba, on the western coast of Hudson Bay, is one of the three largest polar bear maternity denning areas in the world. Canada is one of five “polar bear nations,” along with the United States (Alaska), Russia, Denmark (Greenland) and Norway.
Fast Facts: Polar Bear
Scientific name: Ursus maritimus
Inuktitut name: Nanuq
Average weight: 400 – 600 kg (males) 150 – 250 kg (females)
Average lifespan: approximately 25 years
Polar bears have been known to swim up to 10 kilometres per hour and farther than 90 kilometres without a rest. They can hold their breath underwater for more than a minute.
More than two-thirds of the world’s polar bears are found in the Canadian Arctic.
Because they rely on sea ice to hunt ringed seals, polar bears are especially vulnerable to climate change.
Did you know?
Polar bear fur has no colour. It’s transparent and only looks white because it reflects light. Here’s another surprise: polar bears have black skin under their fur, which helps capture heat from the sun.