Environment

Where Do Polar Bears Live?

Polar bears mainly inhabit the Arctic Circle.

Polar bears are carnivorous bears who inhabit the Arctic Circle which surrounds the Arctic Ocean and the neighboring sea and landmass. The polar bear is a close relative to the brown bear, though it has evolved over the decades to develop a body that is characteristically adapted to cold temperatures and enables it to move across the snow. Most of the polar bears are born on land but spend most of their time in the sea snow from where they hunt for their food. They are classified as “vulnerable species” by the IUCN due to the expected habitat loss as a result of climate change. Polar bears influenced the spiritual and cultural lives of the circumpolar people and continue to play an important role in their culture today.

Habitat

Polar bears are marine mammals because they spend most of their time in the sea. It is the only living marine mammal with limbs and feet adapted to walking for miles on land. Polar bears prefer the sea ice that covers the waters over the continental shelf. The areas around the Arctic Circle have a high concentration of biodiversity compared to the deep water of the high Arctic. The polar bear frequents areas where the sea ice and the water converge creating a suitable environment for seals that make up much of its diet. Thus, the bears are found primarily along the boundaries of the polar ice pack rather than the polar basin that has a low concentration of seals.

Distribution

Polar bears are distributed across the circumpolar Arctic. They have been spotted as far as the North Pole. In the South, they have been spotted in Southern Labrador, Newfoundland, Norway, James Bay, Gulf of Saint Lawrence, and Bering Sea. They have also been seen near the boundary between subarctic and humid continental climate zone. The polar bears can also be found in Greenland, Russia, and the US. Of the 19 known polar bear subpopulations, two subpopulations are found in the James/Hudson Bay area, another subpopulation inhabits the Western Hudson Bay, while another group in the northwestern Ontario and James Bay.

Polar Bear Adaptation to their Habitat

The polar bear has a slightly elongated body build and larger skull compared to the brown bear. It has stocky legs and small ears and tail. The feet are large to distribute body weight while walking on snow and also enable it to swim without any difficulty. The paws have pads covered with soft papillae that protect them from the cold ice. The claws are scooped on the underside to assist in digging the ice while hunting for seal. The fur consists of a dense underfur and guard hair to insulate the body. The bear has a white coat which turns yellow with age while those kept in captivity may have a pale shade of green coat due to the algae growing in the guard hairs.


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