International Polar Bear Day is on 27 February 2021
19 January, 2021
Did you know that a polar bear’s skin is actually black? It’s true! It’s the fur that’s white allowing them to camouflage in their natural environment; often blending in so well with their surrounds that they look like snowdrifts, rather predators in search of food.
To us, we see the polar bear as large and fluffy, a burly character that lives in the Arctic. But to seals and other food sources, it is seen as a threat. Not so much as the biggest threat that is global warming, melting the ice and threatening the very existence of these incredible creatures.
Just how far back do they go?
It’s thought that the polar bear came from their ancestor, the brown bear. They weigh in at anything up 1,300lbs for males and up to 650lbs for females and can be traced back as far as four million years.
While we don’t want to think about it too much (!) their main source of food are ringed seals, as the polar bear needs large amounts of dietary fat to survive and seals provide just that. They're natural hunters and renowned for their stealthily silent stakeouts, often waiting by the side of seal breathing holes for days on end, just to source enough food and fat to survive on in the cold Arctic climates that will also carry them through the leaner summer months.
Where do they live?
Typically, you’ll find polar bears in Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway, although they don’t have marked territories as such given that they’re always moving around. They follow seasonal changes and the pattern of their food source as it too migrates and moves around. They can travel up to 1,000 kilometres to adapt to a landscape that’s more suited to their primal instincts, stocking up on insulating fat as a matter of priority. In fact, a matter of life and death.
They need sea ice to survive and, during the summer months when the temperatures are less harsh, they create restful habitats where they can stay out of harm’s way and conserve their energy until the ice reforms and hunting begins once more.
Will polar bears become extinct?
Rather disturbingly, it’s predicted that by 2100 these precious Arctic creatures will become extinct, as ice melts from global warming, making hunting and procuring vital nutrition that much harder. A study published in Nature Climate Change analyses how polar bears will likely be affected under a number of different greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Read more on this study to understand the future impact, cub development, predicted survival rate and how, by 2080, reproductive failure is set to become a global concern.
A fact that many people don’t know is this: polar bears are classed as marine mammals because they spend most of their time on the sea. They swim with their front paws that are webbed and can travel up to six miles per hour. Their swimming stroke mimics the ‘doggy-paddle’ as their front paws do all the work while their hind legs and feet are flat, acting as rudders.
They can swim some serious distances and have been known – in one particular case - to swim almost 220 miles! We know this because a study by the Alaska Science Center (ASC) used global positioning collars to track the movement of female polar bears.
Karen Oakley, a supervising marine biologist for the ASC says, “the technology to track long-distance bear swims accurately was not available in the past. The GPS technology, which is relatively new, is what allowed us to really do the actual in-depth analysis of this.”
Apparently, the necks of the male polar bears were just too thick for the GPS collar to fit, hence the reason they were able to only track the movement of females!
Get Arty and make a Recycled Polar Bear Lantern!
This downloadable resource from the WWF will help the creatiive juices flow as you and your pupils hunt for recycled goods around the home (or school) to make a fun polar bear lantern.
Or for primary school children (and bigger kids who love colouring in!) these free colouring-in polar bear templates will keep them occupied for hours.
Polar Bears International also has some super Youth Actions and Toolkits to support learning and action-led activities.
As we wrap, it's important to remember that as the ice habitat of these magnificent marine mammals shrinks, so do they, presenting an unthinkable challenge to their overall survival.
Let's all play our part in keeping global warming down and work towards SDG Goal 13: Climate Action and Protecting the Planet.