Polar bear

Living life on top of the world, but his kingdom is ever-narrowing

Hans-Jurgen Mager

The largest extant bear and largest extant land carnivore.

Polar bears live on the circumpolar Arctic sea ice, while some are found in the central Arctic basin’s permanent multi-year pack ice. There exist 19 recognized populations in five polar bear nations.

Polar Bears have year-round access to sea ice to hunt. However, in locations where the sea ice melts entirely each summer, they are forced to spend several months on land. This land usage appears to grow, at least in those areas where sea ice is melting fast.

Anthropogenic and natural changes in Arctic environments, and our knowledge gaps in Polar Bear ecology, are challenges to their conservation. Oil development in the Arctic poses a wide range of threats.


Population est.
Presence Uncertain, Vagrant
United States

Recent updates

Dec 2022: Recent research, which WWF partially funded, has revealed that the polar bear population in Canada’s western Hudson Bay dropped drastically between 1987 and 2004. In 1987, the number of bears was estimated to be 1,200, but by 2004, this number had reduced to below 950. This decline is thought to have been caused by the increasing temperatures.

July 2022: The Polar Bear Agreement, an international agreement aimed at conserving polar bears and their habitats, was renewed for another 10 years. The agreement, signed by Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia, and the United States, commits the signatories to work together to address the threats facing polar bears and their habitats.

2021: The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it had finalized a rule to protect critical habitat for polar bears in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The rule designates more than 480,000 acres (1,942 km2) of land as critical habitat for the bears, which will help to ensure that they have access to the resources they need to survive.

Did you know?

  • They are more abundant in shallower, ice-covered areas along the continental shelf, where currents or upwellings boost biological productivity, i.e., more food availability.
  • They are sea ice-dependent carnivores sensitive to sea ice habitat loss.
  • They were widely hunted throughout the Arctic in the first half of the 20th century. Conservation efforts were launched in the early 1960s by researchers.
  • Seals are their main prey, but they also like small mammals, birds, eggs, kelp, or sometimes carcasses. Out of their 100 hunting attempts only 2 or 3 attempts are fruitful!
  • They have a very strong sense of smell and can smell prey from kilometers, even below the ice.
  • Polar Bears digest fat more efficiently than protein, making them the largest bear.
  • The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Coastal Plain in northeastern Alaska, USA, is a key maternal denning region for polar bears. Recently enacted legislation has cleared the way for possible oil and gas extraction. As a result, denning female polar bears could be disturbed, and cub survival will be negatively affected by the survey activities. – They are the only bear species considered marine, as they spend most of their time in the Arctic Ocean and depend on it for their food and habitat.

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No