• Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are the largest living species of bear and the largest living carnivore. Found in the Arctic, polar bears have a wide distribution and can be seen in North America, Europe, and Asia.

    Polar bears spend little time inland, as their primary diet consists of seals. In order to hunt, polar bears are dependent on sea ice in shallow coastal areas so as to reach hunting waters.

    Polar bears are considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Populations are relatively stable, but slow-growing because they only reproduce every three years. Current estimates suggest that there are at least 20,000 wild bears, but accurate estimates are difficult because polar bears are solitary and often live in remote areas. 

    Canada, Greenland, and the United States allow for controlled hunting of polar bears, and polar bear hunting can be important both for sport and for subsistence in Inuit communities. Polar bears also promote ecotourism, with some areas offering bear-sighting tours, which provides an economic boost to remote areas.

    Polar bears depend on sea ice to reach their desired hunting areas. The loss of Arctic sea ice due to changing climates and warmer weather is the biggest threat to this species. Polar bears are unable to survive solely off the hunting they can do on land.

    Other human-related challenges, such as aquatic pollution and habitat destruction from oil drilling, have also increased strain on the wild polar bear population. Except in isolated areas, poaching is not considered a significant threat to this species.

    1. About how many wild polar bears are there, and why is it difficult to know exactly how many there are?

      There are probably at least 20,000 wild polar bears, but accurate estimates are difficult because they live alone in very remote areas.

    2. Where in the world can polar bears be found, and what type of habitat can they be found in?

      Polar bears are found in the Arctic regions of North America, Asia, and Europe, and are dependent on coastal areas with access to shallow water and sea ice for hunting.

    3. What is the biggest challenge polar bears face when it comes to survival?

      Polar bears need access to sea ice in order to hunt. Due to climate change, the sea ice is melting in many places, making it harder for polar bears to hunt in order to eat and survive.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Arctic Noun

    region at Earth's extreme north, encompassed by the Arctic Circle.

    Encyclopedic Entry: Arctic
    carnivore Noun

    organism that eats meat.

    Encyclopedic Entry: carnivore
    climate change Noun

    gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate change
    distribution Noun

    the way something is spread out over an area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: distribution
    ecotourism Noun

    act and industry of traveling for pleasure with concern for minimal environmental impact.

    International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Noun

    environmental organization concerned with preserving natural ecosystems and habitats.

    Inuit Noun

    people and culture native to the Arctic region of Canada, Greenland, and the U.S. state of Alaska.

    poach Verb

    to hunt, trap, or fish illegally.

    sea ice Noun

    frozen ocean water.

    subsistence Noun

    minimum amount of a substance that is necessary to support life, such as food or shelter.

    vulnerable species Noun

    level of conservation between "near threatened" and "endangered." Vulnerable is the lowest of the "threatened" categories.