Feb 25

Get ready to celebrate because February 27th is International Polar Bear Day!

Polar bear photo   

Polar bears might look big and tough but with their arctic habitat disappearing fast, the future of the world’s largest land carnivore is in our hands.   

The impact of climate change

Climate change is now the biggest threat facing polar bears, which depend on sea ice for hunting and breeding grounds. With recent declines in sea ice occurring faster than projected, it seems likely that epic nine day swims will become a regular challenge for polar bears.   

Photo of two polar bears on an iceberg

The melting of Arctic sea ice is the main threat to polar bear conservation.

The estimated global population of polar bears is 20,000 to 25,000, but this number is rapidly declining. In 2005, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group upgraded the polar bear from Least Concern to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List due to predictions that the global polar bear population will decline by 30% within the next 35 to 50 years.   

Why celebrate polar bears?

A stupid question I realise, but just in case you are in any doubt as to why polar bears are so fantastic and worthy of their own celebratory day, then here “are a few of my favourite things” about polar bears. 

Good fur keeping warm

Polar bears are wonderfully adapted for their snowy environment with their thick white coat providing the perfect camouflage and the perfect defence against freezing temperatures. In fact, polar bears are so well insulated that they overheat at temperatures above 10°C!  

Male polar bear photo  

Claw-rious

Polar bears are able to amble nimbly across the ice thanks to their mobile icepicks – huge non-retractable cat-like claws! These claws also come in pretty handy for keeping a tight grip on fleeing prey. No need for a manicure here then!  

Photo of a polar bears front claws

 

Strong but sensitive

Poor seals don’t really stand much of a chance with polar bears around. Using their incredible sense of smell, polar bears are able to detect prey that are almost a kilometre away and up to a metre under the compacted snow. Seriously impressive olfaction!  

Photo of a polar bear hunting a seal  

Bear-stroke

One polar bear’s recent nine day swim is testament to the amazing swimming skills of these bears. Strong limbs and huge paddle-like forepaws are the secret to the polar bears stroke (judging from this photo it looks like doggy-paddle is their preferred stroke). Polar bears normally just swim short distances, but with increased melting of sea ice, scientists now predict that bears will regularly have to make longer journeys through freezing waters.  

Photo of a polar bear swimming  

How you can help  

I realise that the Arctic and its polar bear inhabitants are a long way from most of us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help to save this wonderful species. Polar Bears International have come up with some great ideas of what you can do on International Polar Bear Day to help make a difference.  

A few other ideas from the ARKive brain are:  

Now you know how amazing polar bears are and what you can do to help, you have no excuse not to go all out and celebrate these Arctic beauties on International Polar Bear Day on February 27th!

Bonnie Metherell, ARKive Media Researcher

Jan 25

A polar bear has been recorded swimming continuously for over nine days, a feat of endurance which could reveal the potential impacts of climate change.

Photo of polar bear swimming

Polar bears have large, strong limbs and huge forepaws which are used like paddles when swimming.

The price of a long swim

The long-distance swim, covering an incredible 687 kilometres (426 miles), was undertaken by a female polar bear fitted with a GPS collar which allowed scientists to track the bear’s movements.

Photo of polar bear cub peering over adult female

A polar bear cub remains dependent on its mother for around two and a half years, but may be unable to endure the high costs of a long swim.

Although polar bears are often known to swim between land and sea ice to hunt seals, this long journey came at a high cost to the female bear. In the two months over which she was followed, the female lost 22 percent of her body fat, and also lost her yearling cub, for which the long swim would have been even more energetically costly.

Climate change a threat to polar bears

The results of this study, published in the journal Polar Biology, demonstrate the remarkable swimming abilities of polar bears, but also the potential risks of a changing climate. Scientists fear that increased melting of sea ice as a result of global warming may force polar bears to undertake more frequent, longer journeys through freezing waters, at a potential cost to their health and the survival of their cubs.

Photo of polar bear leading cub across melting ice

The main threat to the polar bear is believed to be melting of Arctic sea ice as a result of climate change. This species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.

According to George Durner, one of the scientists who undertook the study, “We are in awe that an animal that spends most of its time on the surface of sea ice could swim constantly for so long in water so cold. It is truly an amazing feat.” However, he adds that their dependency on sea ice “potentially makes polar bears one of the most at-risk large mammals to climate change.

Read the full story in the BBC’s article.

Watch underwater footage of a polar bear swimming on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

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