TW Viewpoint | The Polar Bear: Threatened or Thriving?

October 10, 2018 | Stuart Wachowicz

On the front of the Canadian two-dollar coin is the image of an animal, Ursus maritimus, the polar bear, a creature of rare beauty, but what enables this noble creature to survive in one of the harshest climates on earth?


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This great bear is the largest living land carnivore, the average male weighing 1200 pounds with a record of 2,200 lb. While it can look adorable, it is in fact one of the most dangerous animals on earth.

If one were to specifically set out to custom design a carnivorous predator for the high arctic, one could do no better than Ursus maritimus. It can thrive in temperatures averaging -30 F in the winter, in a barren ice covered land bordered by the freezing brine of the Arctic Ocean.

What are some of the survival characteristics that can be found in this majestic beast?

Blubber: The polar bear has a thick insulating layer of blubber (an oily fat between the skin and muscles of marine mammals). This layer, not found in other bears, is between four to five inches in thickness, and insulates muscles and organs from the bitter cold of freezing air or sea water. Without the genetics to develop this bubbler layer it would not survive. The blubber also makes the bear buoyant, not only keeping it warm but enabling it to float during extremely long swims. In July of 2011, National Geographic reported that a female polar bear made an epic journey, swimming 426 miles in the Beaufort Sea over a nine-day period.

High-Tech Fur: To the average observer the fur of a polar bear appears white or off-white. Researchers however have found that the coat, made of two distinct layers, is very much more than a camouflaged body suit. The outer hairs are actually transparent, or clear - not white, and because they scatter or reflect the full visible spectrum, the bear appears white.

Research has revealed the guard hairs also work to absorb heat, infrared energy coming out of the bear's body. The hollow hairs, being clear, absorb out-going infrared, directing it back to the bear's body. The hair's ability to absorb radiation is especially high at the specific part of the infrared spectrum where mammals tend to radiate heat most strongly. One result of this astonishing feature is that polar bears are often invisible to infrared sensors. This design feature drastically reduces radiation heat loss in its cold environment. Thus the polar bear combines the efficient heat insulation of blubber with a high tech infrared absorption system, making it virtually immune to cold. So efficient is this heat retention system, the bear's biggest problem, despite its -30 degree environment, is overheating when walking or running.

Black Skin: The bear's skin is actually black which absorbs, rather than reflects, energy. The clear fur allows light and the infrared energy of the sun to penetrate through to the skin, where blood carries heat into the body. Interestingly the bear seems to be aware of its black nose, for as it waits for prey it will often place a paw over the nose, to avoid giving away its position.

Sense of Smell: In November 2014 Live Science reported on research that suggests a polar bear can catch the scent of a seal on the ice from up to 20 miles away.

Socks: The bear comes with a set of built-in socks composed of very coarse fur covering much of the bottom of the feet, which provides excellent traction on the ice.

These are among only a few of the features built into the genetics of a creature purposed to live and thrive in an icy land, making it among the most adaptable animals on the planet, having survived numerous fluctuations in temperature and arctic sea ice.

Recently some organizations have used the polar bear as a fund raiser for various environmental causes, relying on its cuddly appearance to garner sympathy to their respective messages. One of the frequent predictions being made is that retreating sea ice will threaten the existence of the polar bear. Early prognostications by climate alarmists have led to numerous claims that this remarkable creature is on the brink of extinction. Field research however offers a very different conclusion.

In 2005 the official global polar bear population estimate was 22,500. In the 12 years since that number was published, the global population has increased to about 30,000. This represents a population increase, in a relatively short time, of more than 30%. The facts show that polar bears are thriving despite shrinking summer sea ice. Dr. Susan Crockford reported "…loss of summer sea ice, regardless of cause, is not a major threat to bear survival." When one studies the great white bear one can only be amazed at the complexity of this creature, and of the myriad of specialized parts that all work together to ensure its survival. Any honest, thinking person can only conclude this bear is a product of deliberate design, at the hand of a Being of incomprehensible capacity.

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