TIDLÖS is deeply rooted in its Arctic origins and is therefore committed to protecting the heritage, culture, landscapes, and wildlife of the Arctic region.
For this reason, TIDLÖS is proud to support the WWF in their work to help protect one of the world’s most iconic creatures, the polar bear, and its habitat.
Polar bears are the planet’s biggest land-based carnivores and the Arctic’s top predator and as such are a powerful symbol of the strength and endurance of the Arctic.
It may be difficult to imagine that such an impressive and powerful predator could be vulnerable, but man-made climate change is making life increasingly tough for them, so their fate is in our hands and we at TIDLÖS are determined not to let them down!
To celebrate these beautiful creatures and raise awareness of their plight, we would like to share with you some polar bear facts you may or may not be aware of:
- They are classified as marine mammals as they spend most of their lives on the sea ice. They are the only bear species with this classification. Their name in Latin is Ursus maritimus, which means ‘sea bear’.
- The current estimate is that there are between 22 and 31,000 polar bears living in 19 sub-populations. This is an estimate, and the real number will almost certainly never be known. Although all polar bears live in the Arctic, they cluster around specific areas. One of the biggest can be found on land and in the waters around Svalbard, just 1,050 kms from the North Pole. A 2004 survey concluded that between 1,900 and 3,600 polar bears live in the Barents Sea area. Approximately half are likely to reproduce in Svalbard.
- Polar bears roam into the territory of five countries. The subpopulations live on territories that are part of Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia, and the USA. The five nations now work together on policy and projects to protect the species.
- Polar bears have adapted perfectly to their Arctic environment. Polar bears have a lot in common with other bears, but they have many distinctive features too. They have a long, narrow head that is small relative to the body and short, strong claws.With 30 cm wide paws, they can trek across treacherous ice and deep snow and can swim for several hours to get from one piece of ice to another. Their thick white coat of fur and a 4-inch layer of fat keep them warm and camouflaged. They have 3 eyelids, the third protecting the bear’s eyes from the harsh elements.
- Their diet consists mainly of ringed and bearded seals. In order to survive, polar bears need to consume large amounts of fat, which seals have. However, they will also make do with other animal carcasses, small mammals, birds, and even eggs and vegetation when hungry. They have 42 razor sharp teeth and with jagged back teeth and canines larger than a grizzly’s teeth, they have little trouble devouring food!
- Polar bears spend over 50% of their time hunting for food. A polar bear might catch only one or two out of 10 seals it hunts, depending on the time of year and other variables. Polar bears generally live and hunt alone, though they can be quite social too.
- They have an outstanding sense of smell. Polar bears can detect seal breathing holes in the ice from up to a kilometre away. The bears can even detect a seal in the water beneath a metre of compacted snow using their sense of smell.
- Polar bears are black not white. The fur of the polar bear is translucent, not white, but it appears white because it reflects visible light. Beneath it all, their skin is jet black. You can see this on their nose and on the pads of their feet!
- Male bears grow to twice the size of females. Typically weighing 500-750 kgs, males can grow to a staggering 800 kgs. They are the world’s largest land carnivore. Its closest rival is the Kodiak bear. When fully grown, male bears can be up to three metres long. Despite their massive size and weight, a polar bear can reach a top speed of 40 km/h so little point in thinking you will be able to run faster!
- Grizzly-polar hybrids exist. Recent genetic testing confirmed the existence of hybrids. They often behave more like polar bears as they are usually birthed by polar bear mothers. They are known informally as ‘grolar bears’ or ‘pizzly bears’!
- DNA can be extracted from their footprints. A polar bear’s DNA can be isolated based on a technique developed by WWF and the specialist firm SPYGEN. Even more surprising, tiny scoops of snow from a polar bear track also revealed DNA from a seal recently eaten by the bear!
- Hunting began to be regulated in the 1950’s. These creatures were hunted by indigenous populations for centuries. The Soviet Union banned all hunting of polar bears in 1956. Canada imposed quotas on the activity in 1968, and Norway introduced a series of regulations from 1965 to 1973.
- Climate change is threatening their habitat. Polar bears rely heavily on sea ice for traveling, hunting, resting, mating and, in some areas, maternal dens. Because of ongoing and potential loss of their sea ice habitat resulting from climate change – the primary threat to polar bears throughout the Arctic region – polar bears are now a threatened species. As their sea ice habitat recedes earlier in the spring and forms later in the fall, polar bears are increasingly spending longer periods on land, where they are often attracted to areas where humans live. One of the biggest changes happened in 2006 when a sudden decline in sea ice altered the shape of coastal areas in the Svalbard archipelago.
- A 30% population decline is expected by 2050. The lack of food caused by sea ice reduction is a particular problem for pregnant females. They need to build up fat stores to live from when birthing and nursing cubs. Scientists disagree on the impact of sea ice reduction, but 30% is the figure most quoted, whilst some fear it could be much greater.