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Environmental Protection

Polar Bears Aren’t Left Handed (and 9 Other Things You Didn’t Know)

Photo: Courtesy of Brian McMahon

Help celebrate the king of the Arctic on Polar Bear Day, February 27, with these fun facts.

1. Hand-in-hand

Polar bears are not left-handed. This is a common misconception—research has shown that both paws are used equally. You might say they are ambidextrous.

2. Just keep swimming

The polar bear is considered a marine mammal due to all the time it spends in and around the sea. Adult bears can spend several days in the water, covering long distances.

3. Size matters

Polar bears are the largest bears on the planet. Males are significantly larger than females. Their weight varies throughout the season—an adult female can more than double her weight between spring and late summer.

4. Brrr!

Polar bears live only in the Arctic. Besides the ice shelf around the North Pole, they live in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, the Russian Arctic, and the Norwegian Arctic.

5. Conservation

There are an estimated 20,000–25,000 polar bears. Cubs have low survival rates but adults typically live to be 15-25 years. They can live to be 30.

6. Dancing in the dark

Polar bears don’t hibernate. They are active in winter even when it’s dark all day. Only pregnant females build birthing dens where they go into a “winter sleep.”

7. A new life

Polar bears have delayed implantation. They mate in April-May, but the fetus doesn’t develop much until late fall. The cubs are born quite small around New Year.

8. When opportunity strikes 

They can survive for over six months without food pending they have enough body fat and get enough rest. Besides their main diet of seals, they are opportunistic feeders. They may eat carrion, birds’ eggs or even hunt for sea birds.

9. Pollutants

Polar bears are exposed to very high pollutant levels, especially persistent organic pollutants (POPs). POPs gather in fatty tissue and break down slowly. The higher up the food chain, the higher the concentration.

10. Breaking the ice

Global warming is a threat to polar bears whose survival depends on sea ice. Their population could be reduced by 2/3 by 2050 if climate scientists are right. The polar bear has Red List status as Vulnerable (VU) and is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

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