10 amazing facts about polar bears

Discover fascinating facts about polar bears.

Polar bear seated on ice flow, Spitsbergen, Norway. © Howard Perry/Getty

Where can you see polar bears?

Polar bears reside mostly amongst the circumpolar regions of Canada, Norway, Greenland and Russia. However, they have been seen further south in James Bay, Canada.


Are there any other names for polar bears?

The Inuit people of the Canadian Artic call the polar bear nanuq, an animal worthy of great respect. In Russia the polar bear is called beliy medved meaning the white bear, while in Norway and Denmark, the polar bear is called isbjorn, meaning ice bear.


How many cubs do polar bears have?

Female polar bears usually give birth to twins. A single cub or triplets is uncommon. The pair of cubs will remain with their mother for the first two years of their lives before leaving to find their own territory.

A mother polar bear cuddling up with her young cubs after leaving their den for the first time
A mother polar bear cuddling up with her young cubs after leaving their den for the first time. © Christine Haines/Getty

How big are polar bears?

The polar bear is the largest land carnivore, and they’re absolutely huge! Adult males can weigh between 390kg and more than 590kg and females can weigh between 152kg and 295kg.


How do polar bears find their food?

Using their amazing sense of smell, these efficient hunters can detect prey almost a kilometre away and nearly a metre below the compacted snow.

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)
Polar bear. © Rebecca R Jackrel/Getty

What do polar bears eat?

Ringed seals and bearded seals are a polar bear’s main food source. In a single sitting, the carnivore can eat 45kg of blubber but during months when prey is scarce it can slow down its metabolism until more food is available.


Why don’t polar bears slip on the ice?

In order to walk easily on the icy terrain polar bears have non-retractable claws and paw pads that act like suction cups.


How do polar bears stay warm?

Polar bears depend on their fur for insulation during harsh winters. Dirty, wet and matted fur is less likely to keep the animals warm so they wash it in the snow to keep it clean.

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) on melting sea ice.
Polar bear on melting sea ice. © Chase Dekker/Getty

Are polar bears endangered?

Polars bears are listed as a Vulnerable species. Loss of Arctic sea ice due to climate change is the most serious threat to the animals throughout their range.


How did polar bears evolve? By Michael Englehard

he oldest known polar bear fossils hail from Svalbard and northern Norway and are dated at 115,000–130,000 years old, before the beginning of the last Ice Age. But some biologists think that polar bears diverged from brown bears as early as 600,000 years ago.

According to current research, polar bears evolved from brown bears that ventured onto the frozen ocean to stalk marine mammals during the last major period of glaciation. Through natural selection, the palest individuals with the greatest amount of fat would have had the best chance to survive and therefore reproduce.

It was not a single, clean-cut departure, however, and repeated pairings between both species occurred (DNA analysis shows only a 1 per cent difference between polar bears and one Alaskan brown bear population).

Shrinking sea-ice is forcing landlocked polar bears to mingle with their southern cousins once again, particularly as the latter are now travelling farther north.


In coastal Arctic Alaska, grizzlies have been observed feasting on bowhead whale carcasses, sometimes in the company of polar bears, and interbreeding has been documented.