21 Strange But True Polar Bear Facts

Published August 4, 2016
Updated November 9, 2023

From noses far more powerful than you imagined to fur that isn't actually white, these astounding polar bear facts are truly fascinating.

They’re the mightiest predators of the Arctic, the masters of the ice and ocean. But disappearing ice might soon spell their doom. Here are twenty-one polar bear facts to help you appreciate these incredible animals before time runs out:

Polar Bear Facts
Though polar bears appear to be white, their fur is actually pigment-free and transparent, with a hollow core that merely reflects the largely white light around them. Underneath their fur, their skin is black. Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Polar Bear Hunt
Polar bears throw tantrums if a seal happens to escape their clutches: They've been been seen pounding the ice with their paws or throwing blocks of ice around after a failed hunt. BBC/YouTube

Staring Polar Bear
Polar bears are the largest land-based predators on Earth: Males can weigh as much as 1,700 pounds and grow up to ten feet in length. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Newborn Polar Bear Resting
Although some adult polar bears can be nearly the size of a small car, they are born weighing just over one pound. For comparison's sake, most people weigh around seven pounds when they're born.STR/AFP/Getty Images

Polar Bear Manitoba
Churchill, Manitoba, the Polar Bear Capital of the World (there are 1,000 bears in the region, and only a little more than 800 people) boasts a booming polar bear spotting tourism industry. But they also have a polar bear prison.

Polar bears often wander into the town, rifle through trash cans, and sometimes even eat dogs. Offending bears are tranquilized and sent to the prison, a former aircraft hangar, where they're kept in cells, and only fed ice water for a few days before being released. The idea is to make their stay so unpleasant, they won't return.
Guy Clavel/AFP/Getty Images

Mom Cub
Polar bears are great mothers. They take care of their cubs for a little over two years and protect them from aggressive males. A University of Calgary study found that female polar bears will sometimes adopt abandoned cubs into their own broods. Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

Polar Bear Facts Hibernation
Unlike most other bears, the polar bear does not hibernate — only pregnant polar bears retreat to dens in the colder months. Carmen Jaspersen/AFP/Getty Images

Polar Bear Family
Female polar bears stay with their cubs in the den for four to eight months. During this period, the mother fasts, then the whole family emerges from the den to hut for seals.Andrey Smirnov/AFP/Getty Images

Swimming Underwater
The polar bear's Latin name, Ursus maritimus, means "sea bear," and for good reason. Their front paws, which they use as paddles, are webbed, and they have been seen swimming as far as 200 miles from land. They need to be able to swim to travel between ice floes, which polar bears are dependent on for hunting. Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Polar Bear Friends Walking
Polar bears are generous with their friends: Another polar bear might ask to share food with others of his kind by slowly approaching and rubbing his nose against the other bear's nose before the two chow down on a freshly killed seal. Nigel Treblin/AFP/Getty Images

Interesting Facts About Polar Bears
A polar bear can eat 100 pounds of ringed seal blubber in one sitting.Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Climbing Polar Bear
When hunting, their noses can detect a seal from up to a mile away. Britta Pederson/AFP/Getty Images

Hunting Success Rate For Polar Bears
Nevertheless, though polar bears spend more than 50 percent of their time hunting for food, fewer than 2 percent of their hunts are successful. Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

Running Youngster
While polar bears almost always prefer a slow, ambling walk of just three or so miles per hour, these fearsome predators can sprint, over short distances, at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Bears In London
England's King Henry III had a collection of exotic animals that he kept in the Tower of London. He called one of this pets the “white bear;” historians agree that it was polar bear. The animal was a gift from King Haakon of Norway in 1252. A long leash was made for the bear so it could swim in the Thames and catch fish.Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Polar Bear Portrait
The Inuit people worship a God-like polar bear called Nanook. According to their mythology, he brings the Inuit luck during the hunt, and if hunters did not pay Nanook respect, they would catch no bears.Peter Steffen/AFP/Getty Images

Polar Bear Facts Penguins
Polar bears live around the North Pole, in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Norway. Contrary to popular myths, that means penguins and polar bears have never encountered each other in the wild: Penguins reside in Antarctica while polar bears can only be found in the Arctic. Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Wet Polar Bear
Polar bears roll in the snow and go for dips in the ocean to keep clean, and, strangely enough, to stay cool. With a layer of blubber under their fur 4.5 inches thick, polar bears often overheat when they run, even if their Arctic habitat. Pete Steffen/AFP/Getty Images

Polar Bear Ice Sheet
Melting ice floes present the biggest threat to the polar bear's survival. Due to insufficient ice floes, one polar bear recently swam for nine days straight — a record 426 miles — in search of food. She lost 22 percent of her body weight on the epic journey, and her cub.

Polar Bears And Cannibalism
In 2011, polar bear biologist Ian Stirling observed male polar bears regularly preying on polar bear cubs — usually a rare occurrence. He hypothesized that seals have become less accessible as global warming causes ice floes in the Arctic sea to melt. Cut off from their regular diet, polar bears may be more prone to cannibalism.Christoff Stache/AFP/Getty Images

Polar Bear Close Up
In 2008, the United States listed polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Scientists predict that two-thirds of the polar bear population could disappear by 2050 if climate change continues to melt ice floes. John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images

Next, read about the grizzly-polar bear hybrid found in Canada. Then, check out this shocking photo of a polar bear made emaciated by climate change. Finally, learn all of the most incredible facts about Arctic animals.

Elisabeth Sherman
Elisabeth Sherman is a writer living in Jersey City, New Jersey. She holds a Master's in writing from Columbia University, and her work has appeared in Food & Wine, The Guardian, Yahoo, BBC, HuffPost, VICE, MSN, and Vulture.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Sherman, Elisabeth. "21 Strange But True Polar Bear Facts." AllThatsInteresting.com, August 4, 2016, https://allthatsinteresting.com/polar-bear-facts. Accessed May 24, 2024.