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In college (and sometimes even now), my friend and I would send each other ridiculous amounts of "cute" photos – I’d send her pictures of baby polar bears, and she’d send me images of adorable (human) babies. Over time, I learned a few cool things about polar bears, so it was especially terrible to see one of the latest articles from National Geographic. Polar bears are starving due to ice melting, and it’s illegal in Canada (where this photographer was shooting) to feed these polar bears anything to sustain them. These poor bears are slowly laboring in a painful emaciated state trying to find food, and are dying in increasing numbers. Original National Geographic video here.
Why do I care about polar bears?
Polar bears have really awesome unique traits, along with having some of the most adorable cubs. Moreover, it saddens me to see any animal in this state - to have their habitat literally disappearing in front of their eyes and not have an ability to rebuild their environment. As hard as we try, we can't grow ice back in the Arctic. But we can create an awareness and possibly change things for polar bears, and all Arctic animals, in the future.
Ursus maritimus is the polar bear's scientific name - it means sea bear. All of the polar bear's body is designed to be a powerful swimming machine. Polar bear fur has two components, a dense underfur and top guard hairs.
Did you know?
Polar bear fur isn’t actually white – and their skin is actually pigmented black! Each hair shaft is free of pigment and is completely transparent with a hollow core. This design scatters and reflect visible light, just like snow, to give the bear an overall white appearance. Their black skin covers a layer of fat that can be up to five inches thick.
These white-appearing bears have rough, black footpads to grip the ice, along with claws that measure up to two inches long. Polar bears primarily hunt seals, and in the spring and summer tend to sleep more during the day as the seals are more active at night.
Fun Fact: Almost 60% of polar bears are found in Canada! The rest are dispersed amongst Alaska, Greenland, Russia, and Norway.
Male polar bears reach sexual maturity around ages six to ten, while females are between the ages of four and six. The mammalian urge to "nest" is seen in polar bears, as female cubs build snow dens and stay safely tucked away during their gestation period and birth, usually from September to April.
Fun Fact: Wild polar bear cubs are most often born in December! Twins are most common. Cubs are blind, toothless, and covered with short, soft fur, and nurse for approximately twenty months before moving on to prey.
Polar bears primarily hunt ringed seals, as these seals are the only food source with a high enough fat and calorie content to keep a polar bear sustained. Ringed seals cut ten to fifteen breathing holes in the ice, using their sharp claws on the front flippers. These breathing holes are open during the entire winter, even in ice up to six feet thick. The seals surface about every five to fifteen minutes at one of the holes or use air pockets trapped under the ice. Polar bears wait for seals to breathe at the openings - they locate them with their sensitive sense of smell and anticipate the seals emerging. Their nose is so powerful it can detect a seal twenty miles away, smell a seal den covered with snow, and find a seal’s air hole up to one mile away! This can take hours, and up to days! Polar bears often lie still and pounce with impressive speed and force when in sight of their prey.
Fun Fact: Polar bears can eat 100 pounds of blubber in one sitting!
A group of polar bears is called a pack or a sleuth, and unlike their brown and black cousins, they do not hibernate (cold weather is just a fact of life!). They can swim up to six miles per hour, and have been known to swim over 60 miles without rest for food. The polar bear’s fat not only stores energy and keeps them warm, but it also increases their buoyancy when they swim!
Fun Fact: the word "Arctic" comes from the Greek word for "bear," and "Antarctic" comes from the Greek, meaning "opposite of the Arctic" or "opposite of the bear." You will only find polar bears in the north pole, while penguins are found in the southern hemisphere (so unfortunately those cute images of them together just aren’t accurate).
So what can we do about it?
1. Speak up and create an awareness about these poor animals losing their habitat, share this information with your friends!
2. There are a number of polar bear conservation efforts out there that always could use more help! Polar Bears International and World Wildlife are good places to start.
3. And finally, let's cultivate an awareness of what we do that impacts our earth, so that we can hopefully improve the world in the future for humans and animals alike.
Original National Geographic video here.
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