Maybe you’ve been fortunate enough to view a polar bear in captivity, but believe us when we say there’s nothing like spotting one in its natural habitat!
These incredible creatures live in many parts of the circumpolar north including Canada (home to approximately 60% of the world’s polar bear population), Greenland, Russia, Norway, and the United States (Alaska).
There’s something so lovable and fascinating about polar bears that despite their hunting skills and predatory nature, they’ve formed the basis of one of Coca-Cola’s most successful advertising campaigns for over a decade. Just what is it about one of North America’s largest carnivores that so captures our hearts and imaginations? Let’s get to know the polar bear.
Thanks to massive height and weight, there’s nothing quite like watching a polar bear “do its thing.” From its hunting style to the way it walks, you will never confuse this bear with any other.
The male of the species are massive and range from 273 to 544 kgs (600 to 1,200 lbs), while adult females tend to tip the scales at 181 to 318 kgs (400 to 700 lbs). The largest male polar bears are a stunning 3.5 meters (10 ft) tall on their hind legs and can reach 771 kgs (1,700 lbs).
As prolific hunters, polar bears focus primarily on the ringed seal. The seals cut breathing holes into polar ice and can be counted on to surface every five to 10 minutes. Polar bears wait patiently for a seal to surface, often lying in wait for days on end, before pouncing on its prey. In lieu of their favorite treat, a polar bear might also snack on whale, walrus, small arctic mammals and bird eggs.
If you spot a polar bear in the wild, it’s likely it’ll be walking or running. With a pace of approximately 3.5 miles (5.5 kms) per hour, the species is not known for its speed. Even so, when necessary, adult polar bears are able to move as quickly as a horse over a short distance, reaching a top speed of 25 miles (40 kms) per hour.
Many species of bear have a large home range (the distance in which they travel and call home), but none match that of the polar bear. The polar bear can have a home range 300 times larger than a brown bear.
The size of its range, however, depends on many factors including the availability of food and quality of its habitat. According to Polar Bears International (PBI), an organization devoted to conserving polar bears and the sea ice they depend on, there are 19 distinct populations of polar bears in the circumpolar region.
The Importance of Sea Ice Regions
Because several of our expeditions visit sea ice regions, many passengers get to view polar bears in their natural environment. Of course, as elusive as these great white giants are, this is never a guarantee, but an incredible highlight when it happens.
Scientists have divided the Arctic into four ice regions, allowing them to track the polar bear population and assess their health and overall condition. The four regions are:
- Seasonal Ice
- Polar Basin Divergent Ice
- Polar Basin Convergent Ice
- Archipelago Ice
Polar bears can only survive in sea ice regions, as they need the ice to reach their primary prey: bearded and ringed seals. The primary threat to the future of the polar bear is ice loss, as the result of climate change.
Our staff member, Kt Miller, just returned from a trip to Svalbard, Norway with @quarkexpeditions. This week she will be sharing a photo a day from her journey. #polarbeartakeover . "Within mere hours of departing Longyearbyen we were lucky to drift upon an incredible scene— a beautiful polar bear walking along the edge of some fast ice tucked into a fjord backed by a massive glacier. Fast ice is sea ice that is fastened to land. These areas of fast ice in the back of fjords can be great late spring and early summer hold outs, where sea ice sometimes lingers. Polar bears need sea ice to hunt their main prey— seals. The hunting in summertime gets trickier and tricker as the sea ice gets thinner and melts. A lack of ice ridges and icebergs in some areas also makes it more difficult for a polar bear to sneak up on a seal unsuspected. Once the sea ice is gone, polar bears are forced to fast on land until the sea ice freezes again in late fall or early winter." Photo: @ktmillerphoto
As noted by PBI, “Conscientious, respectful ecotourism can help local people earn vital income—and encourages residents and visitors alike to recognize the long-term advantage of conserving polar bears and their habitat. After all, it's a habitat we share.”
At Quark, we want the polar bear to be around for many years to come. This is why we do our best to share information with others, as it helps people understand the importance of conservation.
On our Arctic expeditions, your experienced guides will let you know when to be watchful for polar bears. In some areas, guides will go ahead to scout out landings to ensure they are polar bear-free and safe for passengers to access. Still, you may have an opportunity to spot one of these magnificent creatures from on board the ship, or possibly even from the air while flightseeing aboard one of our mighty icebreakers’ on-board helicopters.
Contact one of our Polar Travel Advisers today to learn which expedition is best for you if polar bears are of particular interest to you. There’s nothing better than experiencing the beauty of the polar bear in person -- at a distance of course!