Polar Bear Facts
HOME · Biodiversity

25 Polar Bear Facts About the Arctic’s White Giants

Polar bears are the world's largest land carnivores. These amazing creatures have become closely associated with their icy habitat and the ongoing effects of climate change. In this article, we will explore a variety of polar bear facts, their distinct characteristics, intriguing behaviors, and natural habitats.

Well-adapted to the harsh Arctic conditions, polar bears possess impressive hunting skills and excellent swimming abilities. These solitary animals exhibit strong maternal instincts and are well-equipped to endure the cold, thanks to their thick fur and substantial blubber.

Despite their adaptability, polar bears are classified as a vulnerable species by the IUCN Red List. Similarly, they are a threatened species in the United States. They face increasing challenges due to climate change and the loss of their natural habitat.

Join us as we explore the fascinating world of polar bears, deepening our understanding and appreciation of these incredible creatures. By doing so, we can all contribute to their survival and help preserve the Arctic ecosystem they inhabit.

Related: You might also like our brilliant bear facts. Or more different types of bears, including the famous brown bear species.

25 Facts About Polar Bears

2 polar bears on the ice
Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

1. Polar bears are the world's largest land carnivores.

As the world's largest land carnivores, polar bears boast an impressive size. Males typically weigh between 900 and 1,600 pounds, with some exceptional individuals reaching up to 2,200 pounds. Females are generally smaller, weighing in at 330 to 650 pounds and up to 1,100 pounds when pregnant.

Their body length varies, with males extending from 7.9 to 9.8 feet and females measuring 5.9 to 7.9 feet.

The massive size of polar bears serves a critical purpose in their predatory lifestyle. With powerful jaw muscles and large canine teeth, these apex predators are equipped to crush the skulls and bones of their prey, primarily seals. 

Their stocky build, characterized by a large head, thick neck, and strong limbs, aids polar bears in dominating other predators. Within their ecosystem, other predators include Arctic foxes and wolves.

2. Ursus maritimus means "sea bear" in Latin.

The polar bear's scientific name, Ursus maritimus, was first coined by British zoologist Constantine John Phipps in 1774. 

The name comes from two Latin words: "ursus," which means bear, and "maritimus," which refers to the sea. 

In addition to their scientific designation, various indigenous names reflect their cultural importance and presence in Arctic regions. For example, Inuit communities refer to the polar bear as "nanuq." While the Danish and Norwegian term "isbjørn" translates to ice bear. 

3. They inhabit regions within the Arctic Circle.

Polar bear drinking
Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

Polar bears are synonymous with the harsh yet beautiful landscapes of the Arctic Circle. Additionally, their survival is intricately linked to the unique environment they inhabit. 

Spanning five countries—Canada, Greenland (Denmark), Norway, Russia, and the United States (Alaska)—these magnificent creatures inhabit areas where sea ice forms, particularly over the continental shelf. 

The reason for their affinity to sea ice is simple: polar bears hunt seals, their primary food source, who also share their icy home. Sea ice also provides space to rest and breed.

4. Polar bears are primarily solitary animals.

Polar bears lead predominantly solitary lives. This behavior can be attributed to their vast home ranges and the sparse population densities across the Arctic ice.

Their solitary lifestyle enables them to efficiently hunt and travel across the ice without the burden of competing for resources. It is quite rare to observe social interactions among adult polar bears, except during certain circumstances like the mating season or when food sources are plentiful.

Though they are primarily loners, polar bears exhibit some sociality. For instance, people have witnessed them playing with other individuals, communicating through body language and vocalizations to avoid direct confrontations when encountering one another.

5. They can detect seals up to a mile away.

The extraordinary olfactory capabilities of polar bears are essential for their survival in the harsh Arctic environment. 

Possessing a sense of smell that is approximately 100 times more sensitive than a human's, these impressive predators can detect the scent of their primary prey, seals, from up to a mile away.

Polar bears often stalk seals on the ice or patiently wait by their breathing holes to ambush them when they surface for air. Further, polar bears rely on their keen hearing, which also plays a key role in their hunting prowess, enabling them to detect the faintest sounds made by seals8

6. Fish, birds, and carcasses supplement their diet.

Polar bear family feeding on a seal.
Polar bear family feeding on a seal. Photo: iStock.

While polar bears primarily depend on seals as a staple food source, they are also opportunistic hunters who can adapt to various dietary options when necessary. 

In times when seals are scarce or challenging to catch, many polar bears eat fish, such as Arctic char, which they can catch in shallow waters or near river mouths. Additionally, they may prey on seabirds like guillemots and eider ducks. They use their agility and keen sense of smell to track and catch these birds.

Carcasses also supplement the polar bear's diet, particularly during the summer months when the ice melts, and access to seals becomes limited. Polar bears often scavenge on whale carcasses, walruses, and narwhals. Scavenging provides them with essential nutrients and energy to sustain themselves during lean periods.

7. Thick blubber and dense fur insulate them from the cold.

One of their most notable polar bear features is the combination of thick blubber and dense fur that insulates them from the cold. 

The thick layer of blubber can be up to 4.5 inches thick and serves multiple purposes, including insulation, energy storage during times of food scarcity, and aiding buoyancy while swimming. 

This fatty tissue effectively retains the polar bear's body heat, allowing them to maintain a stable body temperature of around 98.6°F (37°C) even when ambient temperatures plummet to -34°F (-37°C). The insulating properties of blubber are so efficient that polar bears risk overheating if they engage in excessive physical activity.

Complementing this blubber layer, polar bear's fur comprises two layers that further insulate them from the cold. The outer layer consists of long, hollow guard hairs that trap a layer of air for insulation. It also wicks away water to keep the skin dry. Meanwhile, the inner soft, dense underfur layer provides additional insulation and warmth.

Interestingly, polar bear fur is not actually white but transparent, allowing them to blend seamlessly with their snowy surroundings. Underneath their coat, polar bears have black skin, which helps them absorb and retain heat from the sun. 

8. Large paws aid walking on ice.

2 polar bears on ice one standing
Photo by Brian McMahon on Unsplash

Polar bears have large paws, measuring up to 12 inches in diameter. These impressive appendages serve multiple purposes, allowing the bears to traverse the frozen terrain efficiently and swim through icy waters5

The size of their paws helps distribute their weight more evenly across the ice, preventing them from breaking through thin layers.

Additionally, the pads of their feet have tiny bumps called papillae. These pads increase traction on slippery surfaces, while their sharp, curved claws provide extra grip and aid in capturing prey.

9. They can swim up to 6 mph and cover 60 miles in one swim.

Polar bears are great swimmers! With powerful front limbs acting as oars, they can reach up to 6 mph speeds, which is crucial for hunting and navigating the ever-changing Arctic landscape. 

Although they can achieve this impressive speed, they typically maintain a more moderate pace of 2-3 mph during long-distance swims. Researchers have sometimes recorded them traveling as far as 60 miles without stopping1.

Large, slightly webbed paws function as rudders, helping them maintain direction while their hind legs remain flat, streamlining their body movement. 

10. Researchers can extract polar bear DNA from their footprints

Here’s an interesting polar bear fact you probably didn’t know - scientists can extract DNA from polar bear footprints. Researchers can use advanced genetic techniques to analyze the DNA found in polar bear footprints. Two tiny scoops from a polar bear track revealed enough data to help them identify individual bears, track their movements, and even estimate their population size. 

This non-invasive method is advantageous in polar regions, where studying these powerful animals up close can be difficult and dangerous. 

11. Polar bear cubs are often born as twins in snow dens.

Polar bear cubs enter the world in the sheltered environment of snow dens, often arriving as twins. These dens, also known as maternity dens, provide a warm and secure haven for expectant mothers to nurture their newborns during the harsh Arctic winters. 

Pregnant polar bears begin constructing these dens around October or November. To do so, they burrow into snowdrifts on south-facing slopes to maximize warmth from the sun. The positioning also aids in protection from strong winds. The walls of these dens can be up to 3 feet thick, offering exceptional insulation against extreme cold.

The birth of twin cubs is an evolutionary adaptation that increases the likelihood of at least one cub surviving to adulthood in the unforgiving Arctic conditions. 

Cubs are born between December and January, blind, toothless, and weighing just about 1 pound. During their first few weeks of life, they rely entirely on their mother's body heat and nourishing milk for survival. 

The mother's dedication is unwavering; she remains dormant throughout the denning period, conserving energy for the critical tasks of nursing and keeping her vulnerable cubs warm. After approximately three months, the family emerges from the den in spring. The cubs are now strong enough to venture onto the sea ice alongside their mother in search of food.

12. Cubs are born blind, toothless, and weigh about 1 pound.

Born during the harsh Arctic winter, polar bear cubs weigh just about one pound and are both blind and toothless.

Although the cubs are born with a fine layer of downy fur, they cannot generate sufficient body heat on their own and rely on the warmth of their mother and the insulating snow den to survive.

13. Mothers nurse cubs for two years before independence.

Mother polar bear and 2 cubs
Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

The nursing period for polar bear cubs is a vital stage in their development, spanning approximately two years before they gain independence.

During this time, the mother's nutrient-rich milk, high in fat content, enables the cubs to grow rapidly—sometimes gaining up to 2.2 pounds per day in the early nursing phase. 

As the cubs mature, they gradually transition from milk to solid food, starting around four months of age. Despite this shift, nursing remains an essential source of nourishment for the young bears, with the frequency of nursing decreasing as their consumption of solid food increases.

Throughout nursing, polar bear mothers dedicate themselves to teaching their offspring the necessary skills to survive in the harsh Arctic environment. This includes hunting seals—their primary prey—and swimming, navigating ice floes, and avoiding potential dangers. 

However, despite their mothers' diligent care and guidance, polar bear cubs face a high mortality rate during their first year7. Only 50% of young polar bears successfully reach independence.

14. Females give birth once every three years on average.

On average, female polar bears give birth once every three years3, a time frame influenced by various environmental and physiological factors.

Reaching sexual maturity around the age of 4-5, female polar bears participate in the mating season between April and June. During this period, male polar bears follow scent trails on the ice to locate potential mates. 

The courtship and mating process can extend over several days, after which the complex process of delayed implantation occurs. This means that the fertilized eggs remain dormant in the female's uterus until September or October, ensuring that the cubs will be born during the most favorable conditions.

15. Mating with grizzly bears produces hybrid offspring.

In recent years, a fascinating phenomenon has emerged in the wild, as grizzly bears and polar bears have been found to mate and produce hybrid offspring. 

These unique hybrids, colloquially known as "grolar bears" or "pizzly bears," have sparked interest among scientists and wildlife enthusiasts alike. 

The first confirmed sighting of a wild hybrid occurred in 2006 in Canada, where DNA testing verified that the animal was indeed a product of both parent species.

These rare hybrids display a mix of physical traits from their grizzly and polar bear lineage, including an intriguing blend of fur color, body shape, and paw morphology. Researchers consider this less surprising than you might think, considering polar bears evolved from brown bears as recently as 150000 years ago.  

16. They play a crucial role as apex predators in the Arctic ecosystem.

As apex predators, polar bears are pivotal in maintaining the delicate balance within the Arctic ecosystem. 

By preying on seals, primarily ringed seals and bearded seals, they help regulate these populations and prevent their overabundance. This regulation is crucial as an unchecked seal population could lead to overconsumption of fish stocks, thereby disrupting the intricate food chain in the region.

Moreover, the remains of seals left behind by polar bears provide sustenance for scavengers, such as Arctic foxes and seabirds. 

The presence of healthy polar bear populations serves as an indicator of the well-being of the entire ecosystem. 

17. Indigenous cultures view them as symbols of strength.

Polar bears fighting
Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

Indigenous cultures have long revered the polar bear as a symbol of strength, resilience, and wisdom. For the Inuit, the polar bear, known as Nanook or Nanuq, holds a significant place in their mythology and is considered a powerful spirit being.

The Inuit deeply respect the polar bear's ability to endure the harsh Arctic environment, which they believe reflects physical strength and spiritual fortitude. As such, Inuit hunters would traditionally perform rituals before and after a polar bear hunt, honoring the animal's spirit and acknowledging its significant role in their cultural and spiritual lives.

The Sami people of northern Europe refer to the polar bear as "The King of the Beasts," admiring its strength and fearlessness. Similarly, the Chukchi people in Siberia regarded polar bears as powerful spirit guides, often featuring them in shamanic rituals and ceremonies. 

The enduring appeal of polar bears can be observed in their frequent appearances as mascots and their starring roles in films and TV shows. 

Perhaps the most iconic instance of a polar bear mascot is the heartwarming Coca-Cola advertising campaign that has become synonymous with holiday cheer. Since 1922, these ads have featured animated polar bears, endearing them to generations worldwide.

Regarding their presence on the silver screen and television programs, polar bears have been featured as central characters, comedic sidekicks, or symbols of environmental awareness. For example, the 2007 animated film "Arctic Tale" highlights the lives of a polar bear cub and a walrus pup, shedding light on the challenges they face due to climate change. 

Similarly, the documentary series "Frozen Planet" explores polar bears' fascinating lives and remarkable adaptations in the unforgiving Arctic environment. These portrayals entertain audiences and raise awareness about the importance of polar bear conservation and the broader issue of climate change.

19. Climate change threatens their survival.

Polar bear near melted ice
Photo by Jason Hillier on Unsplash

As the planet warms due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions, the Arctic region is experiencing a rapid decline in sea ice habitat. The retreating sea ice poses a significant threat to the survival of polar bears. 

As the Arctic sea ice disappears and thins, most polar bears find it increasingly challenging to locate and capture prey6. Consequently, they expend more energy searching for sustenance, leading to malnutrition, reduced reproductive success, and even starvation.

The loss of sea ice also compels them to swim longer distances, increasing the risk of exhaustion and drowning. 

Moreover, as polar bears spend more time on land, they face heightened competition with other predators. As the polar bear habitat retreats, grizzly bears compete for food alongside an increased likelihood of human encounters and conflict. These factors, combined with the possibility of declining seal populations and heightened vulnerability to diseases and parasites, paint a concerning picture for the future of these majestic animals in a rapidly changing Arctic ecosystem.

Related: Share some of our polar bear quotes to help spread awareness of their plight.

20. The IUCN Red List classifies them as a vulnerable species.

The IUCN Red List, a comprehensive inventory of the conservation status of species worldwide, has classified polar bears as a vulnerable species since 2006. 

This designation indicates that these magnificent Arctic animals face a high risk of extinction in the wild. 

The IUCN projects that within three generations, or approximately 45 years, polar bear numbers could decline by over 30%.

21. Conservation efforts include habitat protection and conflict reduction.

To protect polar bears, conservationists focus on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, limiting human encroachment, and protecting vital breeding grounds. 

By preserving the polar bears' icy habitat, we ensure they have ample space to hunt seals, their primary food source, and maintain healthy populations. 

Additionally, collaborative efforts among Arctic nations, such as the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, have been instrumental in establishing regulations that protect these iconic creatures and their habitat from the adverse effects of industrial development and pollution.

Conflict reduction between humans and polar bears is another crucial aspect of conservation efforts. Strategies such as educating local communities about polar bear behavior and safety measures, installing bear-proof containers and electric fences, and establishing warning systems to alert residents of nearby bears have been implemented to mitigate these threats. 

22. The US declared them a threatened species in 2008.

In 2008, the United States made a significant decision to officially list polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

This groundbreaking decision, led by the U.S. Department of the Interior, marked the first time a species was granted protection, primarily due to the impacts of climate change on its habitat. The primary concern driving this listing was the rapid loss of Arctic sea ice4, which is crucial for polar bears' survival.

Listing polar bears as a threatened species triggered a series of conservation measures to safeguard their dwindling population. Among these measures was developing a polar bear recovery plan outlining critical actions needed to improve the species' status and ensure their long-term survival. 

23. Polar bear tourism attracts visitors to Arctic regions.

Polar bear tourism has gained significant popularity over the years, drawing intrepid travelers to the Arctic regions in search of polar bear sightings. 

Top destinations for polar bear tourism include Churchill, Manitoba in Canada, Svalbard in Norway, and Kaktovik in Alaska. These destinations typically provide the best chances of seeing the bears during peak seasons, such as their migration period and when they congregate around areas rich in seals.

A responsible approach to polar bear tourism generates substantial economic benefits for local communities and fosters greater awareness and interest in polar bear conservation. 

Adhering to strict guidelines, ethical tour operators ensure minimal disturbance to the bears and the environment. These guidelines encompass a range of measures, from maintaining a safe distance from the bears to reducing noise pollution and utilizing eco-friendly transportation. 

24. Wild polar bears live up to 25 years, while captive lifespans are shorter.

Captive polar bear
Photo by Craig Oliver on Unsplash

In the vast, icy expanse of the Arctic Ocean, wild polar bears can live up to 25 years. Some exceptional individuals even reach the age of 30.

As apex predators, adult male polar bears occasionally exhibit cannibalistic behavior, targeting cubs and contributing to a lower average lifespan for the species.

However, polar bears tend to experience shorter lifespans when it comes to captivity. Constrained by limited space, unnatural diets, and stress, captive polar bears are more prone to health problems that are less common in their wild counterparts.

25. There are an estimated 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears worldwide.

Scientists estimate the global polar bear population to be between 22,000 and 31,000 individuals.

These numbers come from extensive research conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Polar Bear Specialist Group2, which employs various methodologies, such as aerial surveys, mark-recapture studies, and genetic analysis. 

It's important to note that while some of the 19 recognized subpopulations are well-studied, others have limited data available, making it difficult to assess their conservation status and population trends accurately.

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with P.


Pagano, Anthony & Durner, G & Amstrup, Steven & Simac, Kristin & York, Geoff. (2012). Long-distance swimming by polar bears (Ursus maritimus) of the southern Beaufort Sea during years of extensive open water. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 90. 663-676. 10.1139/z2012-033.


Regehr, E. V., Laidre, K. L., Akçakaya, H. R., Amstrup, S. C., Atwood, T. C., Lunn, N. J., Obbard, M., Stern, H., Thiemann, G. W., & Wiig, Ø. (2016). Conservation status of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in relation to projected sea-ice declinesBiology letters12(12), 20160556.


erocher, A. E., & Stirling, I. (1998). Maternal investment and factors affecting offspring size in polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Journal of Zoology, 245(3), 253-260.


Durner, G.M., Douglas, D.C., Nielson, R.M., Amstrup, S.C., McDonald, T.L., Stirling, I., Mauritzen, M., Born, E.W., Wiig, Ø., DeWeaver, E., Serreze, M.C., Belikov, S.E., Holland, M.M., Maslanik, J., Aars, J., Bailey, D.A. and Derocher, A.E. (2009), Predicting 21st-century polar bear habitat distribution from global climate models. Ecological Monographs, 79: 25-58. 


Rode, Karyn & Peacock, Elizabeth & Mitchell, bullet & bullet, Taylor & Stirling, Ian & Born, Erik & Laidre, Kristin & Wiig, Øystein. (2012). A tale of two polar bear populations: Ice habitat, harvest, and body condition. Population Ecology. 54. 10.1007/s10144-011-0299-9.


Stirling, Ian & Derocher, Andrew. (2012). Effects of climate warming on polar bears: A review of the evidence. Global change biology. 18. 2694-706. 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2012.02753.x.


Derocher, Andrew & Stirling, Ian. (2011). Aspects of survival in juvenile polar bears. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 74. 1246-1252. 10.1139/z96-138.


Stirling, I. (2009). Polar bear: Ursus maritimus. In Encyclopedia of marine mammals (pp. 888-890). Academic Press.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Pin Me:
Pin Image Portrait 25 Polar Bear Facts About the Arctic’s White Giants
Sign Up for Updates