Today we are celebrating International Polar Bear Day, an annual event that raises awareness about the impact climate change has on polar bear populations. These pictures from our archive document the beauty of these largest carnivores that live on land as well as the threats they face.
Some polar bear facts that might interest you are: Polar bears spend most of their time at sea, their scientific name is ursus maritimus, they have an excellent sense of smell and about 10 cm of blubber to keep them warm. Male polar bears weigh usually between 351 and 544 kg. They hunt for seals from an ice platform and their hair is actually transparent, their fur appears white as the light is refracted through their hair strands.
A polar bear rests in the icy water in Svalbard in 2016.
Polar bears are observed from the deck of the Arctic Sunrise, while it was moored to an ice floe in the Fram Strait on the edge of the Arctic Ocean in 2011.
A polar bear mother and her young stand on sea ice, north of Svalbard in 2013
A stranded polar bear mother and her two cubs are seen in Kaktovik, Alaska. in 2011. As the Arctic sea ice minimum retreats, over 700 miles from the shore, bears must either head north or swim south to land, as the ice breaks up, reducing the amount of time they can spend hunting on the sea ice.
A local keeps watch as a polar bear comes on shore outside the village of Kaktovik on barter Island, Alaska. Scientists are using the DNA from hair samples to determine which bears show up, and for how long. This information can help wildlife managers minimize human-bear conflicts, and understand how the animals are faring as climate change reduces the amount of time they can spend on the sea ice hunting their preferred prey, seals, and if they are changing their behavior to adapt to the declining sea ice.
A stranded polar bear mother and her two cubs cross from the barrier islands outside Kaktovik to feed at dusk from a whale carcass left by Inupiat whale hunters.
Three polar bears stand on the ice in Hudson Bay in 2008.
Polar Bears are wandering over the snow. Cape Churchill, Hudson Bay, Canada in 2008.
Two polar bears are fighting on the ice in Hudson Bay in 2008.
A polar bear in drifting and unconsolidated sea ice in Kane Basin, off Cape Clay, in 2009. Polar bears cannot survive without sea ice, using it to raise their young, to travel and as a platform for hunting seals – their primary food source. This bear appeared to be in healthy condition, however the species is threatened with extinction because climate change is causing its sea ice habitat to melt away rapidly.
An adult polar bear that approached the Arctic Sunrise is photographed in the sea ice west of Svalbard in 2011. Polar bears are ever curious and will often approach ships that are frozen into or breaking through the sea ice. This bear is a member of the Barents Sea/ Svalbard population which is doing comparatively well. Though other polar bear populations in the Arctic are becoming severely affected by the loss of sea ice in the Arctic.
A Polar bear wanders on the ice in Hudson Bay in 2008.
A polar bear wanders on drifting and unconsolidated sea ice in Kane Basin, off Cape Clay, in 2009.