This is “nannook” of the frozen north. Its home is on the ice or on the shore near the ice.
A totally Arctic animal, it is at home all around the North Pole—in Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Russia, and Norway.
In the very early days of exploration on this continent, they sometimes were spotted in Newfoundland—and even as far south as Cape Breton.
The mature male is a huge animal. He may weigh in at 1,200 pounds or more and stand five feet or more at the shoulder. When he stands upright, he may be 11-plus feet.
The female is about half that size.
His disposition is not all that great, either. With food being hard to come by in the Arctic, he has been known to attack man many times.
The white bear is extremely well-adapted to its life in the very far north. Its fur is very thick, and has a protective coat of outer long hair. This keeps the bear warm and dry—on land or in the water.
The fur is pure white, or yellowish, so it is very hard to see on the ice floes. The only things which are not white are its eyes and nose.
And he has hair on his feet, along with some thick skin, so he can run on the ice without slipping—and up to about 25 miles an hour, too!
The polar bear is a very accomplished swimmer, and can cover some very large distances. They have been spotted at times as far as 50 miles out from the shore on the ice.
While swimming, his nose is closed and his eyes open. For paddles, he uses only those huge front feet.
The polar bear does not hibernate like other bears do. The female does make a den when she is pregnant, and she sort of dozes in it for a few months.
The den is dug down quite deeply, and may be covered with several feet of snow.
Sometime around the New Year, she gives birth to her cubs (usually two). As with all bears, the cubs are small—not much bigger than a chipmunk, blind, and helpless.
In a few months, the mother comes out of her pseudo-sleep and takes her cubs—fully furred and with eyes wide open—out into their frozen world.
What do they eat? Well, their preferred food is seal. They will wait on the ice by a seal’s breathing hole, like a cat waiting for a mouse.
Or they will inch forward towards a dozing seal. Then, with a sudden rush, that huge paw will smash the seal’s head or toss him 50 yards away.
They eat all sorts of birds, as well as their eggs and young. And they are very fond of dead meat. It is said a polar bear can smell a dead whale or walrus up to 20 miles away.
They like young walruses, too, but catching them is a dangerous game. Walruses defend their young with great vigour and actually can kill the white bears sometimes.
It may seem rather odd to many people, but Ontario has quite a large breeding population of polar bears. There even is a huge park on the shore of Hudson Bay, called Polar Bear Park.
Several hundred of these huge animals gather there for denning and birthing.
The polar bear, Ursus maritimus, is the second-largest carnivore in the world.
We here in Northern Ontario have our very own population of these huge, magnificent animals—even if they are at the very farthest north part of the province.
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