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The polar bear, surely the most widely-recognized symbol of the Arctic, has earned man's respect as far back as written or oral history goes. Beautiful, powerful and very intelligent, they have been able to survive in a land where finding each meal
is a challenge and the intense cold can even make steel brittle.
The polar bear's Latin name is Ursus maritimus, which means "sea bear", a very appropriate name for an animal which is almost as much at home in the water as on land. Polar bears have been seen swimming as much as 60 miles from land or ice.
Polar bears are so closely related to brown bears that they can cross-breed and produce fertile offspring. It is thought that brown bears gradually migrated north about 100,000 years ago, developing the many adaptations that allowed them to
survive further and further north.
Population estimates of polar bears, because of both the bears' habitat and their highly-mobile lifestyles, vary widely. The World Conservation Union's Polar Bear Specialist Group estimated in 1997 that the world popuation is between 22,000 and 27,000.
About 60% of the world's population lives in Canada, but their range is circumpolar. Rather than being evenly distributed around the Arctic, they live in 19 fairly distinct regions, 14 of which are in, or are shared by Canada. A list of the regions and their populations is posted
Churchill, Manitoba, located on the shore of Hudson Bay, is world-famous for the high concentration of polar bears in the area. Most of the photos seen here and
elsewhere on the Net were taken near Churchill, where several companies offer tours in "tundra buggies".
Polar bears have only one enemy - man. As well as the obvious danger from hunters, the bears are theatened by pollution that drifts north from the populated regions of the world. The polar bears in eastern Greenland and on Svalbard, off the northern
coast of Norway, are the most endangered bears in the Arctic. This is due to the fact that their main prey, seals, are contaminated with POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants). When the seals are eaten, the POPs are absorbed by the bears, and their reproductive ability
is being affected as a result.
In the Russian Arctic, polar bears are listed in the Red Data Book of threatened species. Although hunting is prohibited, trapping of a limted number of cubs for zoos and circuses is legal, and poaching is a huge problem. Studies on the effects of pollution, including radioactive pollution, has been undertaken recently.
In the links below, you will find an enormous amount of information on polar bears, efforts to protect them, and well over 100 photos of bears in both the wild and zoos.
Polar Bear Links
International Polar Bear Day
Every year on February 27th, this global event draws attention to the challenges polar bears face in a warming Arctic - and how we each can help.
36 Amazing Facts About Polar Bears
Did you know that polar bears have black skin? That their fur isn't actually white? Or that they can eat 100 pounds of blubber in just one sitting?
Agreement on Conservation of Polar Bears
The complete text of the pact signed in 1973 by Canada, Denmark Norway, the USSR, and the United States.
Polar Bears and the Struggle to Survive
This National Geographic video (46:00) looks at life for an Inuit family in northern Canada and their relationship with polar bears.
Bear Claws and More...
Skulls Unlimited sells real and replica animal claws, teeth, skulls and baculum - very well-illustrated site.
Churchill - Polar Bear Capital
Information from Everything Churchill, a website devoted to promoting the town of Churchill as a premier tourist destination.
Polar Bears Have Clear Hair, So Why Do They Look White?
A detailed explanation from Earth Rangers.
Fatal Polar Bear Attacks
A short list of the people killed by polar bears - note that about half climbed into polar bear enclosures at zoos!
Detecting Grizzly and Polar Bear Dens on Alaska's North Slope
Karelian Bear Dogs are being used by ADF&G and USFWS biologists to find bear dens.
When Polar Bears Attack
This video (10:40) presents lots of polar bear information, as well as some fairly brief but gruesome images from 4 polar bears attacks.
Inquiry After Polar Bears Shot
Sometimes, all the planning in the world doesn't help.
The Alaska Department of Fish & Game provides an excellent introduction to polar bears and their lives.
From Sea World, an extremely good guide to polar bears' habitat and lifestyles.
Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)
An introduction from the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
Polar Bear Alley
Churchill resident Kelsey Eliasson writes about polar bears and whales, his polar bear book, bear tours, research and anything else that comes up.
Polar Bears International
This non-profit organization is dedicated to the worldwide protection of the polar bear and its arctic habitat - the site has facts, photos, recommended tours and more.
The Great Polar Bear Feast
From PBS, the story of an annual phenomenon that occurs in early September on Alaska's North Slope, near the village of Kaktovik.
Polar Bear Photos
Jürgen Schiersmann has a very large album of polar bears, as well as other exceptional Arctic nature photography.
Polar Bear Photos
Eight photos from the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
Polar Bear Photos
Ten superb photos of bears at Churchill, by Norbert Rosing.
Polar Bear Photos
Nine photos from Roger L. Johnson.
Polar Bear Taxidermy
A trophy catalog from a taxidermist in Ontario.
Safety in Polar Bear Country
From Parks Canada, a look at bear-human interactions, from predatory bears to camping concerns.
San Diego Zoo
Lots of information about polar bears, and a live webcam so you can watch the bears.
Toledo Zoo - Polar Bear Cub
Hope, The Toledo Zoo's new female polar bear cub, was born on December 3, 2015.
Meet polar bears face-to-face and swim with beluga whales at the only fly-in polar bear eco-lodges in the world.
Travel to see polar bears in luxurious custom-built Polar Rovers, and stay at the Tundra Lodge at Churchill.
Tundra Buggy Adventure
Polar bear tours at Churchill.
Arctic & Northern Animals & Birds Links
Photographs are © 2000 by Clipart.com, and are used here with permission