Polar Bear

The biggest member of its family, the polar bear also ranks as the largest terrestrial carnivore, and can represent a real danger to people.


Beneath the skin is a layer of blubber, up to 10 cm (4 in) thick. This protects against the cold, and provides buoyancy when the bears are swimming. The melting of the Arctic ice cap is reducing the hunting opportunities for the polar bears on the ice itself, forcing them to swim longer distances. Pregnant females sleep inside large dens for long periods during the winter months, before giving birth to their pups in spring. In dens the temperature will be significantly warmer than outside. The young stay with their mothers for two years.

The polar bears may cover large distances, some coming far inland or swimming for several kilometres across open water. Their forefeet are also very broad, making them good paddles.

Distribution: Found in the far north, right around the globe, in the circumpolar region of the Arctic. Its range extends as far south as Canada.

Habitat: Ice fields.

Weight: 200 - 800 kg (441 — 1764 lb); males are heavier.

Length: 190 - 300 cm (75 — 118 in); about 160 cm (63 in) tall.

Maturity: 4 - 6 years; males mate after 8 years.

Gestation Period: 195 - 265 days; embryonic development begins 4 months after fertilization.

Breeding: 1 - 4; weaning occurs at 18 - 30 months.

Food: Carnivorous, feeding on seals, plus fish, reindeer, carrion, seabirds and vegetation in summer.

Lifespan: 20 - 30 years; 45 in captivity.

Status: Vulnerable.


The bear’s distinctive creamy-white colour blends into the landscape and is water-repellant.


The nose is highly sensitive, allowing the bear to detect a seal carcass up to 32km (20 miles) away.

Hind legs

The hind legs are used for swimming.


Covered with hair, the feet act as snowshoes, helping the bear to walk on snow and ice without suffering frostbite.


Polar bears can locate an air hole in the ice made by a seal from over 1.6 km (1 mile) away. They wait patiently for the seal to surface.