What are Polar Bears?
Polar Bears are the largest of all bears. They live in cold climates like Canada, Russia, Greenland, Norway, and Alaska.
Polar Bears have very large bodies, with a small head and long neck. This is so they can put their head into a seal hole to catch them. They also have a long snout and a super sense of smell. Their powerful strength helps them move the seals onto the ice.
Polar bears have black skin under their very thick insulated fur. The fur is not really white, it just looks that way. Each hair shaft is transparent with a hollow core. It reflects light making the fur appear white. Sometimes polar bears may look yellow or green when dirty, or algae gets into the hair shafts.
Polar bears have very large hairy feet with membrane between their toes so they can use them to paddle when they swim long distances to hunt for food. They use their back feet as rudders.
Polar bears can stay under water for up to 2 minutes.
In the wild, Polar bears eat mostly ringed seal, sea birds, fish, grasses, berries, and other marine mammals like walrus, and whales if they are lucky to get one. Some may wash up to shore which makes it easier for a polar bear to eat the meat from the animal.
Fun facts about Polar Bears:
Polar bears can stay under water for up to 2 minutes.
Polar bears have better vision than most other bears
Polar bears have a extra eyelid to filter out glare from the snow
Polar bears have hair inside their ears to protect them from freezing
So Why Do People Love Polar Bears So Much?
Is it the big cuddly look, the white appearance, the playfulness? For me, it's a combination of all. Polar bears have been my favorite animal long before the wolf, and you all know how much I love wolves. Sadly though, polar bears are going through a tough time in the wild. With climate change, their habitat is suffering greatly with the melting of sea ice.
So what's the big deal about sea ice you ask? Polar bears depend on sea ice to travel long distances to get to their main food source which is ringed seal. Without the sea ice, they have to swim longer distances, and may drown without finding ice to rest upon, or hunt for their food.
Polar Bears in the Wild with Keeper Christy
My friend, Christy Mazrimas Ott, has been privileged to work with polar bears for over 20 years at a local zoo near Chicago. This hands on experience has led her to become involved with Polar Bear International in combatting climate change to help the survival of polar bears in the wild. I am thrilled to have Christy share her experience and awesome photos of polar bears during her trip to Churchill and Norway.
When did you first fall in love with polar bears?
I guess, it would be after Arki had her first cub, Marty, 20 years ago. He was the first polar bear cub since Arki & her brother Uri were born in 1984. We spoiled him.
What is your favorite thing about polar bears?
How intelligent & adaptable they are; they live in a harsh environment & know what it takes to survive in the Arctic.
What did you hope to accomplish on your trip to Churchill and Norway?
In Svalbard Norway it was to see a polar bear for the first time in its natural habitat & visit the Arctic through a Sierra Club outing. In Churchill I was volunteering for Polar Bears International (PBI) as a Field Ambassador. I went out on the Tundra Buggies and talked to guests about polar bears, the issues polar bear are facing, ways the guest can help polar bears & about PBI. I also had a chance to see polar bears in the wild again. In Churchill I saw more polar bears then in Svalbard Norway.
Describe how you felt when you saw a polar bear in the wild for the very first time?
Our trip to Svalbard was in July so there was 24 hours of daylight so we were constantly looking for bears. I got lucky & spotted our first polar bear. It was a male bear & he was eating a seal that he had killed. I was so excited that I spotted the first polar bear of the trip & he was doing what polar bears do. It was magical.
Tell us a little bit about your experience seeing polar bears in the wild (playing, running, swimming, hunting, nursing, etc)
In Svalbard & Churchill the experiences were different. I Svalbard the polar bears still had ice to hunt seals so that is what they were doing. We did see some swimming in the water. In fact we had to leave land at one point while out on excursion to go back to the Russian Research boat we were on because a polar bear was spotted swimming towards land. In Churchill I was there in October-November when the polar bear are waiting for the ice to freeze. We saw bears resting in the willows & in kelp beds, walking, male bears sparring, females with cubs, bears running from other bears, a young female eating cranberries. The polar bears would even get close to the Tundra Buggy walking by & checking out the Buggy’s occupants & even standing up once & awhile to get a closer look.
What or who inspired you to get involved with helping polar bears in the wild?
Robert Buchanan former president & CEO of PBI inspired me. His talks about polar bears were so moving that I knew I had to do something to help them.
How is climate change affecting the survival of polar bears and their habitat?
Polar bears are dependent on sea ice & need that sea ice to hunt their main diet of ringed seals. The less sea ice there is in the Arctic the less time polar bears have to hunt. Once seals get in open water they are hard for a polar bear to catch. In fact in September 2016 we tied with 2007 for the lowest Arctic sea ice extent minimum or the area of sea ice left in the Arctic after the summer melt (the lowest was in 2012). For polar bears, sea ice losses mean: reduced access to food, drop in body condition, lower cub survival rates, increase in drowning, increase in cannibalism and loss of access to denning areas.
What would our world be like without polar bears?
The whole Arctic food web would change & killer whales would be at the top instead of polar bears.
Tell us about the Trees for You and Me project and how it can help polar bears and our environment? Can anyone make a donation to the project?
Yes, anyone can donate to TFYM. The competition just finished & over $13,000 was raised this year to go towards 3 grant applicants. The 2017 TFYM campaign starts February 1st and runs through November 1st. For more info: https://www.aazk.org/committee/trees-for-you-and-me/
What ways can our readers take part in their everyday lives to help minimize the effects of climate change?
There are many things we as individuals can do to help polar bears but here are things you can do that will have the most impact as compiled by PBI Scientist.
Vote for political representatives who recognize that our carbon-based society isn't sustainable and who will work to establish an appropriate price for carbon; share information on these candidates with others
Interpret the facts about global warming to your friends and relatives
Encourage members of your social circles to adopt sustainable lifestyles—and lead by example
To help create a stewardship ethic in your community and raise awareness of how lifestyle changes can make a difference, take part in local green initiatives like planting trees, recycling drives, or bike to work days—or start your own.
Walk or ride a bike
Use public transportation
Drive the most fuel-efficient vehicle for your needed task and drive at the most efficient speed for your vehicle
Avoid drive-through businesses; don't idle for more than 10 seconds
Keep your car tuned up and maintain proper tire inflation
Support community bike lanes, no idling efforts, and mass transit options
Insulate buildings and heat/cool with efficient systems (e.g., rated by Energy Star)
Generate your own power with wind or solar
Let your utility company know that you want to subscribe to green power
Use energy-efficient (e.g. Energy Star) appliances and equipment. Turn appliances off when not in use. Use low-tech methods when possible (e.g., line-dry clothes)
Replace light bulbs with LED bulbs (see Energy Star)
Use no more water than needed
Buy and cook only what you'll eat. Don't waste food.
Consume foods that are minimally processed and packaged (e.g., potatoes vs. potato chips)
Purchase fruits and vegetables grown locally and organically on small-scale farms
Avoid products that result from tropical deforestation (e.g., palm oil, coffee that isn't shade-grown, South American beef)
Consume less meat. Eat at least three meatless meals per week.
Consume products like pasture-fed beef, free-range poultry, and wild salmon rather than CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations) meats—and buy these from local farmers or fishermen when you can
Minimize consumption: reduce, reuse, and recycle
Research vendors and buy from those with sustainable business models
Avoid products with excess packaging
Buy products created closer to home: for example, if you live in the U.S. or Canada, purchase goods made in North America instead of those shipped from far away.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Yes, if interested in more information on polar bears or you want to know how you can help go to http://www.polarbearsinternational.org/
Also if interested in seeing polar bears live in the wild go to http://explore.org/live-cams/player/polar-bear-cam
Many thanks to Christy for all of the time and hard work she put into gathering her photos and sharing her exciting experience and expertise on polar bears living in the wild.
Please help polar bears in anyway you can whether at home or through conservation efforts. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more Animal Facts and fun.