Get ready to celebrate because February 27th is International Polar Bear Day!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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:
- A polar bear fancy dress party to raise money for Polar Bears International. Fake fur is the new black after all!
- Indulge in a natural history film fest by watching the BBC’s Arctic with Bruce Parry, Human Planet and of course ARKive’s great collection of polar bear videos. My particular favourite is the video of the oh-so-cute clumsy and cute cubs.
- A sponsored nine day swim to raise money and help to highlight the impact of climate change on polar bear habitat.
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