Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Polar Bears, Rulers of the Arctic North
Polar Bears, Rulers of the Arctic North
By Clint Leung
The polar bears (Thalarctos maritimus) live in the Arctic regions of the north near open water where they can find their main source of food which are seals. These bears are huge with adults at 7 to 8 ½ feet tall and up to 1,600 pounds. Polar bears are white to creamy white all year round which gives them excellent camouflage against the Arctic snow when hunting. Along with the Arctic fox, the polar bear is the most northerly located land mammal on earth.
Unlike other species of bears, polar bears have longer necks and smaller heads making them appear more streamlined. Despite their large sizes, they are incredibly fast being able to run up to 25 miles per hour. At speeds like this, a polar bear can outrun a reindeer. They are also excellent swimmers being able to swim at about 3 miles per hour but for considerable distances.
During winters, they spend most of their time on the ice floes hunting seals. Polar bears have rough, leathery pads on the bottoms of their feet to maintain footholds on slippery ice surfaces. Their adaptation to the cold Arctic waters is even more impressive. Their thick coats of fur traps a deep layer of insulating air around their bodies. An inner layer of fur is so compact that it is almost impossible to wet it. An outer layer of long guard hairs mat together in the water which forms another layer over the inner layer. After a polar bear leaves the water, it simply shakes its body which results in most of the water being thrown right off leaving the bear almost dry. These protective layers of fur ensure that the polar bear’s skin is kept dry most of the time, even while in the Arctic waters.
Polar bears hunt seals by waiting for seals to come through holes in the ice to breathe. They also stalk their prey utilizing their white camouflage abilities against the mounds of ice. Sometimes polar bears have been known to crawl on their bellies until they are close enough to rush their prey, particularly if no cover is available. Besides seals, polar bears will eat Arctic foxes, birds, baby walruses and even man if they are extremely hungry.
Males and females stay apart for most of the year except during the summer mating season. Females tend to breed only every other year and when they do, usually 1 to 4 cubs are born during March to April. The polar bear cubs stay with their mothers for 1 to 2 years. The life span of polar bears can be up to 34 years.
The Inuit hunt polar bears for their fat, tendons and fur. Scientists say that climate changes have been reducing the ice floes in the Arctic which has disrupted the polar bear’s feeding grounds and migration patterns. There are estimates of about 22,000 to 25,000 polar bears left in the world with 60 percent of them in the Canadian Arctic region. Their populations are thought to be stable for now but some speculate that the species is at risk. Some think that if climate changes continue at its present rate and if worldwide hunting is not adequately controlled, polar bears could face extinction in about 100 years. There is presently much debate on adjusting annual hunting quotas of polar bears, even for Inuit hunters, to further help protect these great bears.
Polar bears have become the most popular symbol of the Arctic north with representations used in everything from soft drink commercials to corporate logos of northern based companies including Canadian North airlines. Nunavut even has their license plates cut in the shape of a polar bear. Tourists can see polar bears in the wild through unique tours on specially designed tundra buggies in Churchill, Manitoba Canada. It’s also not surprising that polar bears are some of the most sought after Inuit art sculptures. Polar bears are definitely the rulers of the Arctic north.
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