Detailed Bear Facts
Seeing a Polar Bear
Dangers to Polar Bears
How Many & Where?
Polar Bears Together
Polar Bear Parts
Five (Six ?) Senses
Time to Eat
Staying Warm
Moving Along

Common Questions

Are polar bears an endangered species?
As of 2003, Polar Bears are not an Endangered Species. Neither the Canadian Wildlife Service nor the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service consider polar bears to be endangered. They are usually considered a "species of special concern" or a "Threatened Species", which means they could become an Endangered Species.

Threats to polar bears include hunting, pollution, and global warming.

The Inuit have been hunting polar bears for thousands of years, and were a natural part of the environment. The Inuit used the polar bears for food, clothing, and bedding.

In modern times people were killing many polar bears by using snowmobiles, boats, and airplanes to catch up to them, and guns to shoot them. Although hunting is restricted or banned in all countries, hunting is still a large cause of polar bear death.

Chemicals, such as PCBs and DDT in the environment move along the food chain. Plankton with chemicals are eaten by fish, and seals eat the fish, and then polar bears eat the seals. The chemicals move along with the animals from plankton to fish to seal to polar bear. The chemicals can make the animals sick.

Polar bears rely on seals for food which they catch on the ice. A polar bear isn't a good enough swimmer to catch a seal in the water. Polar bears must eat enough food in the winter (about 8 months long) to keep them going through the summer (about 4 months long) when they can't catch seals. With global warming, the winters are shorter and the summer's are longer, so instead of having 8 months to fatten up for a 4 month fast, then may only have 7 months of hunting for a 5 month fast. A bear who hasn't had enough food may starve.

World Wildlife Fund and Polar Bears Alive also have great information on threats to polar bears.

Is polar bear hair fiber optic?
No. This is probably the biggest myth about polar bears. In the early 1980's someone suggested that polar bear hair was a hollow tube, like a drinking straw. They guessed that heat from the sun would hit the polar bear, and go down the hollow part of the tube, and touch the bear's skin - just like a fiber optic line. Polar bear skin is actually black, and black is a colour that absorbs heat. The scientist thought he had discovered a special way that polar bears keep warm in a very cold part of the world, but it was just a Big Guess. The scientist never checked to see if his Big Guess was right.

Everyone knows polar bears live way up north. In the far north, there is no sunlight in the winter. The summers have sunlight all the time, and the winters have darkness all the time. Polar bears can't use sun to keep them warm in winter when there is no sun!

For a more scientific view of the issue, please see Daniel Koon's Page on the subject. It is well referenced.

How does a bear go to the bathroom?
Polar bears do a funny thing when the want to go to the bathroom; they walk backwards with just their front feet. With their back feet in place, they take a step backward with their front paws, so that their bum looks like it's sticking out, then they lift up their little tail to do their business.

Why tag polar bears? Doesn't it scare and hurt them?
Polar bears are tagged so that we can learn more about them. If people don't learn about polar bears, we may accidentally do things that hurt them. We can learn how to best protect them when we know how healthy they are, how long they live, what their favourite foods are, how many cubs they have and other things.

When polar bears get tagged, a helicopter flies close to them and a scientist uses a dart gun to drug the bear. The bear is probably startled by the noise of the helicopter. The drug in the dart makes the bear fall asleep. Once the bear is sleeping, the helicopter lands, and the scientist can inspect the bear. If the bear has been caught before, they just need to check the bear's ear tags to find out which bear it is. Then they will often clip some hair, take a blood sample, weigh and measure the bear to find out how healthy the bear is. The bear may also be given some medicine to keep it healthy.

If a bear has never been caught before, the scientists will remove a tiny tooth which will tell them how old the bear is, and then the bear will get ear tags (like polar bear ear rings) and a number tattooed on it's lip.

Is there really a polar bear jail?
Officially the building is "D-20" but everyone in Churchill knows it as the "Polar Bear Jail". The polar bear jail is out where the former military base was. D-20 was once a morgue on the base, but today it helps keep polar bears alive! Many polar bears were killed if they came too close to Churchill. The polar bear jail holds about 23 bears

Today, if someone spots a polar bear, they can call a special Polar Bear Alert phone number. People from the Ministry of Natural Resources then trap the bear in a special cage or hit it with a dart that makes the bear go to sleep. Once they have the bear, it gets locked in jail. Jail may not sound too good, but it is better than being shot! The bear rests in the jail until ice forms on Hudson Bay, and then it is released so it can go hunt seals.

Remember, polar bears don't normally have anything to eat in the summer, so if a bear is caught in the summer, they don't get anything to eat in jail either. They only get water. If they got free food in jail, they would come back to town every year. Polar bear's aren't caught in the winter or spring, because that's when they are busy hunting. A bear caught in the summer may spend many weeks safely in jail.

How big is a polar bear's territory?
Although they are generally solitary animals, polar bears do not have a territory that they claim and protect. They do have areas that they tend to stay in called a home range.

Home ranges are always changing. A polar bear has to go to where the food is, and if that means a long walk, then the bear will go for a long walk. But, if there is food nearby, there is no reason for them to leave. Polar bears don't protect or defend their home range because the ice changes so much. If a bear protected a hole in the ice one day, the next day it may have frozen up and there would be nothing to protect. A polar bear always has to be ready to move on.
Is a polar bear's tongue black? If so, why?
It's true, a polar bear's tongue is black. Why? I'm afraid I have no idea. It could just be the pigment that is there. If anyone one knows, please email me.
Do polar bears hibernate?
Female polar bears (sows) do lightly hibernate when they are pregnant. Only pregnant sows hibernate, because they need to save their energy while they wait to give birth. While the other polar bears may start to hunt out on the ice in October or November, sows head inland to a den to rest until they give birth in about January.

Something not often considered with polar bears is that they are on a very different cycle than other bears. While a black bear eats all spring, summer and fall, then hibernates in the lean winter months, polar bears have the opposite schedule. Polar bears, hunt seals out on the ice, so they need cold temperatures - winter is feast time, and summer is the lean time of year to live off their fat.