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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Polar Bear Ursus maritimus

Icon of the Arctic, the polar bear is the largest mammalian carnivore and has incomparable stamina, resilience, and power. Its body is streamlined, the head grading almost imperceptibly into a long, powerful neck.

Its huge paws may be over 12 in (30 cm) wide and are furred on their undersides, providing grip while retaining body heat. Its hearing and sense of smell are acute: it can hear prey that is under 3 ft (1 m) or more of ice and can smell carrion 3 miles (5 km) away.

Polar bears spend most of the year at sea, roaming the drifting pack ice and swimming across open areas. Naturally buoyant, they can swim for hours, although they hunt mainly on the ice.

The main prey of polar bears is seals, often caught at breathing holes. They also eat sea birds and fish, and the corpses of beached whales are a favorite food. During the summer, many of them live on land and eat a wider range of food, from reindeer to berries. Females give birth in winter, suckling their cubs in a den dug in the snow.

For centuries, the polar bear has been hunted by native peoples of the Arctic, without its numbers declining. However, thinning of the Arctic’s sea-ice by global warming could seriously reduce its access to food.

What Oceana Does

To best protect Arctic marine ecosystems and wildlife, including polar bears, and preserve opportunities for the subsistence way of life of Arctic peoples, Oceana is focused on addressing all of the threats together -- climate change, industrial fishing, shipping, pollution, and oil and gas exploration and development.

Polar Bearzoom image
  • Order Carnivora
  • Length Up to 8 ft (2.5 m)
  • Weight Females up to 650 lb (300 kg); males up to 1,750 lb (800 kg)
  • Habitat Arctic tundra, pack ice, open sea
  • Distribution Circumpolar in the Arctic, southward as far as Newfoundland and the Pribilof Islands
Polar Bear habitat mapzoom image