VI. POLAR BEARS

How old do polar bears get to be?  The females about 20yrs; the male into the late teens

Has anyone been killed by a polar bear?  Yes.  In 1983, a man carrying meat, late at night was attacked and killed.  The bear was destroyed.  I had a chance to meet the man's brother early in the week.  It was a most interesting conversation.

Are polar bears edible?  According to a presentation that I just heard, they really are not safe to eat.  Their liver is extremely poisonous to humans.  If the meat is well cooked, then I guess there is that possibility, but it seems safe to say "no".

What have polar bears been eating since they returned to land last year, and before they go out on the ice this year?  Bluntly: Nothing!

What do the bears do in the polar bear jail?  They do the same thing the "free" ones do.  Wait for the ice to freeze.  Once the bay has frozen the bears are released.

How many bears can the jail hold?  I think I heard something like 23+/-.

How many fish do polar bears eat in a day?  Well, the wild polar bears do not normally eat fish.  They hunt seals.  There have been reports in the past of a polar bear that catches fish, but this is not a regular happening.  Many zoos feed polar bears fish.  They might have a better answer on this one.

Do polar bears have clear fur?  It appears white.  In a study conducted in 1998, polar bear hair, like all hair, contains the substance keratin which is a strong absorber of UV (ultra-violet) radiation. Many people have thought (and the idea is still out there) that the hair worked as a type of fibre optic light transmitter or cable.  According to the '98 study no one had ever officially measured the fiber optic transmission or capabilities until then.   It was found that the hair does indeed absorb UV quite strongly which is why the pelt does not reflect any UV, and the hair is not a transmitter.  There have been other theories or myths about the polar bear hair as well.  Some said that the hair was hollow working like a dead-air space insulator around the bear; others the hair is indeed a fibre optic cable that transmits light (and heat) to the animals skin.  In my conversations on location, information on this topic has been down right confusing.  The only polar bear hair that I have in my classroom lab to look at is a very old prepared slide in which the adhesive that holds it all together is more interesting to look at than the hair itself!   I have been kindly provided the web address of the summary of the detailed study that took place in 1998 in regards to the polar bear hair: Polar Bear Hair (plus this has incredible supporting data and links)   Want to know more about what keratin is?  Try these for general information:  Keratin 1, Keratin 2

Even though the bears are fur-covered, how do the "cold" temperatures affect them? 
See the above question, answer, and link (Polar Bear Hair). In addition:Polar Bears in the Cold 1

When do polar bears get their drinking water?  Polar bears will eat snow to obtain the freshwater supply that they require.  In the off times, they may not drink.

Do polar bears eat a dessert after their seal?  No they don't.  But, after they have finished chewing and devouring the dead animal, the arctic foxes will move in and clean up the bones.  Many times the foxes will follow the polar bears so far out on the ice, that the fox will become trapped and may drown.  Back on land, if a polar bear happened to eat something and its body processed it and came out as waste, the arctic foxes will clean up that mess, too!

Has anyone been hurt by a polar bear while you have been there?  The last reported person to have been killed by a polar bear here in the Churchill area was in the 1980's.  Sometimes, though, people do become careless, and may get bitten or have something taken from them, like a bag or a piece of their coat!  Sometimes people do not use good sense.  They must stay aware during bear season.

Can polar bears get larger than 9ft?  Yes, a large adult male can put his front paws on the top of a school bus! (That's over 10ft)

Do polar bears attack other bears?  Yes.  Males may attack polar bear cubs, and kill them.  The female that has the cubs is always watching for a male.  If the cubs are killed, the male will mate with the female.  Her responsibility is to protect the cubs while she has them with her for two years. These might be helpful links about ALL BEARS in general:   bears 1  or    bears 2

Can polar bears walk on their hind legs?  From what I have observed they can move about on them when sparing, but not as a regular way of walking.

Tell me about the paws of a polar bear.  The paws are mostly fur covered.  This helps in insulating the pads of the feet and keeping the feet from sticking to the ice.  The nails are quite long and strong.  The bear appears to be able to use his paws almost like hands.  The strength of the polar bear is incredible, as they can use their paws to "jackhammer" the ice and snow to break out pieces of kelp to chew on; the same process that would be used to smash open a seals lair.  Some of the feet are as big as from your Adam's Apple in your throat to your waistline!!

Do polar bears have enemies?  Other than the males trying to kill cubs (and it should be noted that the males do not necessarily go hunting cubs), the only enemy would be man.  They are considered a top line carnivore.

What do polar bears weigh? Roughly 800-1100 pounds.  (About the same as the population of Churchill).  The females are lighter in weight, the males larger and heavier.

Can polar bears be tracked?  Yes.  Some bears are marked with paint right on their coats, to make a very obvious indication to some researchers.  Practically all of the bears I have seen have ear tags.  They used to be big and obnoxious, but they have now made them so that they blend with the bear.  They are white button ear tags with coded information.  Radio collars can only be used on males.  The female head of the polar bear is actually smaller that her neck, so the collar would slide off.  The use of radio collars is not very common.  The new global positioning system (GPS) chips are currently being studied to see if this would be the wave of tagging in the future.

Do polar bears run alot?  In order to conserve energy, the bears, at this time of year, try not to run.  They use up 4-5 pounds of stored body fat a day!  Since they have not eaten for several months, running is a severe expenditure of the stored energy.

How far can bears go (walk) on the ice?  It has been researched that a polar bear actually traveled from Alaska, to Greenland, and then to the North Pole before heading back.  That is an incredible distance.

How far can these bears swim?  It has been reported that in a single night a polar bear swam over 60 kilometers.

About when does the ice melt so the bears have to return to land?  Mid July.

Do bears meet in a big group and start walking to Churchill?  They do not necessarily meet in groups, but that has happened.  The largest group together was 14.  Most of the time, males are fairly solitary.

How long does it take a polar bear to get to Churchill from where they  rested during the summer?  That all depends on where they are coming from.  For this, it would be best to consult the maps.

What is a polar bear trap like?  Is it like the ones we have seen in the American Smoky Mountains?  The traps look like enormous barrels with a sliding trap door laying on its side.  Yes they are like those in the US, but much bigger!!

Are polar bears in the wild larger than those in the zoos?  At first I might answer yes, but understanding more about their habits, conditions, behaviours, and more, each bear is really different.  Zoo conditions are also different around the world.  I would suspect, the better and more authentic the conditions for the bears, the more like the wild ones would be.  It should be noted, the zoo bears are most likely going to be fed year 'round.

What food do the polar bears eat when they are not out on the ice floes?  Usually nothing.  They might however find a dead seal or whale washed up and eat that.  They might eat seaweed or chew it up like gum.  Some might eat a few plants or even catch a couple of slow birds.  Normally, they just live off their fat reserves.

How do the polar bears communicate?  I have noticed a lot of visual cues, but also their keenest sense is smell.

How do the bears react when they see the tundra machines?  They actually adapt very easily and learn situations.  They have become used to these vehicles driving around and looking at them.  So the babies have grown up with them. (Also look in the TRANSPORTATION section above).

Do you think that the polar bears are affected by global warming?  If global warming is indeed true, then certainly this will influence the migratory pattern of the polar bear.  The polar bears are excellent swimmers, so may not necessarily need the ice to float around on.  But, if the temperatures do warm, the polar bear could overheat due to the heavy fur covering and layers of fat.  In the summer, some polar bears have been known to dig small pits on the beach, and then place their stomachs in the cool hole!  Here is an article from ABC News about the global warming on polar bears:   Global Warming on Polar Bears 1

Here are a couple of links that are going to be reliable about Polar Bears, besides this site:
Polar Bears 1Polar Bears 2Polar Bears 3 <good link from Wapusk Nat'l Park!

Need to ask a question concerning Polar Bears or this project? Just click on this: Questions will attempt to be answered by Mark Weaver based upon his experiences in and around Churchill, Manitoba.  (If you are in a school or library computer lab, please check with the person in charge to see if you can post e-mail from that computer terminal).    If this "send e-mail" is not operating, please use   mweaver@ccs.k12.in.us