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Your Top 10 Questions About Polar Bears Answered

Discover everything you ever wondered about a polar bear for International Polar Bear Day

Tom_Linster_Thinkstock
© Tom Linster/Thinkstock

It’s International Polar Bear Day and you know what that means—a perfect excuse to celebrate and learn new things about polar bears!

Although we’re sure you already know the basics on this charismatic species, we’re here to answer the most commonly asked questions about polar bears.

Do polar bears live in Antarctica?

Christopher_Michel1
© Christopher Michel
No, polar bears do not live in Antarctica. They live in the Arctic, in parts of the state of Alaska, plus parts of Russia, Canada, Greenland and Norway.

Why do polar bears have white fur?

Wikimedia Commons
© Wikimedia
Surprisingly, polar bear fur is not white, but transparent. Their double coated hairs are hollow like a straw and reflect light like ice—giving the appearance of white. Additionally, underneath that fur, polar bear skin is actually black. The dark color helps them better absorb the sun’s warmth and fend off the cold.

Why do polar bears have such big feet?

CheckingOut_RichardRothstein (1)
© Richard Rothstein
It’s true that polar bears have unusually wide paws for a bear, measuring 12-inches wide and double the average size of a black bear paw. Their paws act as built-in snow shoes, serving not only to help carry their massive weight but also to grip the ice.

Why do polar bears need ice?

Marvin_Weinstein
© Marvin Weinstein
Sea ice is essential for a polar bear to reach prey—which are mainly seals. While seals spend most of their time in the water, they haul their blubbery bodies onto the ice during mating season and to raise young.

Do polar bears hibernate?

USF_WS
© USFWS
Unlike brown and black bears, polar bears don’t need to hibernate. A pregnant polar bear is the only one that will “den up.” She will dig a snow den to give birth in and then emerge after the cubs are strong enough to face the environment. She can live off of her fat reserves for up to eight months.

Where do polar bears sleep?

Captain Budd Christman_NOAA Corps
© Captain Budd Christman/NOAA Corps
When it comes to sleeping patterns, polar bears are actually pretty similar to humans. They sleep about seven to eight hours a day or one-third of their time (excluding any naps). Generally, they have been observed sleeping in dry spots with good visibility of nearby threats. Polar bears will sometimes dig shallow sleeping pits on soft ground and will use their paw or block of ice to rest their head on.

Do polar bears eat penguins?

JohnRollins
© John Rollins
Nope! Penguins are not a part of the polar bear diet. Penguins live almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere, while polar bears are located in the northern hemisphere, in the Arctic. Polar bears live almost exclusively on ringed and bearded seals.

Can polar bears swim well?

NPS
© NPS
Though they can’t swim as well as a fish, they are considered marine mammals for their swimming abilities. Polar bears can swim up to six miles per hour and can swim for several hours over long distances (up to 100 kilometers or 62 miles).

How long can a polar bear live?

Christopher_Michel2
© Christopher Michel
Polar bears can live up to 20 to 30 years, but not many live past 15. Because of melting sea ice, polar bears in some regions are having a difficult time finding food and are losing weight rapidly.

Why are polar bears important?

Mario Hoppmann_NASA
© Mario Hoppmann/NASA
Polar bears are at the top of the food chain, serving as the apex predators of the Arctic. Polar bears are also an important subsistence resource for indigenous communities in the Arctic. Polar bears are also ambassadors for the Arctic. They are a key species that help us understand what is going on in the environment and what we need to do to stabilize it.

If you love polar bears, join us in Protecting the Arctic and make sure we preserve the beautiful habitat they call home.

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