Sea Ice Specialist


Polar bears are the newest of the 6 bear species alive today, arising about 150,000 years ago, when grizzly bears living in Siberia and Alaska began venturing farther out onto sea ice to take advantage of easy seal hunting. The good ones stayed out there, and gradually became separated from grizzlies who remained terrestrial omnivores, that largely lived on plants, and were best suited to temperate climates. Over generations the seal-hunting bears adapted to being on the ice, and a new type of bear emerged: Ursus maritimus, a marine mammal and pure carnivore, the polar bear.

They’re now perfectly suited to the Arctic:

Their SNOUT got longer so they could smell prey better. Polar bears have a sense of smell 100 times better than humans.

Their PAWS grew huge, for snowshoeing and swimming. Their 12-inch wide paws enable them to swim fast—6mph and run up to 25mph—faster than we can!

Their FUR became white as camouflage. Surprisingly, the fur has no white pigment, it is actually transparent; it is the reflection of the sun that causes the fur to appear white.

Their BODY grew bigger for protection from the cold. Polar bears are equipped for survival with two layers of fur and four inches of fat that insulates them from cold air and water.

Gallery: Adaptation

Images of the traits that enable these incredible animals to thrive in the Arctic.

"(What) we're asking an animal to do, in the space of less than 100 years, is to lose those adaptations, and go back to being a largely plant-eating animal."

-Dr. Andrew Derocher,
Chair of IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group

Preserve this Unique Species

Keep the polar bears living and hunting on the Arctic sea ice.

Help Protect the Arctic!