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Polar bear

A bear dependant on the sea for its survival? Yes, the Polar bear! It is actually considered a marine mammal and it relies entirely on sea ice for its survival. If you want to live the amazing experience of seeing one in the wild, you can do it in Europe: just visit the Svalbard archipelago (north Norway)!

It is catalogued as 'Vulnerable' by the IUCN Red List of threatened species, as the population is decreasing and its habitat quality and extent are in decline. Without doubt the main threat this species faces currently is the difficulties to successfully feed & reproduce due to global warming, which causes irreversible reduction in sea ice cover quality -i.e. timing, extent and thickness. Polar bear need this thick ice cover to access prey, build den areas for pupping and for resting and mating. In places where sea ice melts completely during summer, polar bears are forced to fast on stored fat reserves for several months on land, which makes them very vulnerable to climate change and the disappearing ice coverage in their habitats.

Polar bears have a stocky body covered by a water-repellent fur coat and with a thick layer of fat inside, which insulates them from the cold air and water. The apparent white-yellowy thick fur is made up of 2 layers of transparent hairs that reflect visible light and give it that colour, and the sunlight heat is absorbed by the bear’s black skin passing through. They have a long neck, broad feed, relatively small head and short rounded ears. Their big front paws make them excellent swimmers. Males, which are much larger than females, weigh up to 720kg and reach up to 1.6m tall and 2.5m in length.

Breeding takes place in March-May, and pups are born around late November - mid January. You probably stand a higher chance of seeing them in Svalbard from a boat during summer, or on a snow trip during winter. They are solitary animals, found in sea ice areas associated with open shallow water, near shore or where upwellings increase biological productivity.

Catch a glimpse

Polar bear