Polar Bears: Kings and Queens of the Arctic

Polar bears are the largest land predators in the world, residing in the icy regions of the Arctic. Their thick fur protects them from the cold, so dense that it even repels water. This is practical because polar bears are adept swimmers and hunt in the water as well. Their preferred prey is seals, and they patiently wait at the edges of ice floes to ambush them in the water. Adapted perfectly to their prey, they have sharp claws and pointed teeth. The webbing between their toes makes polar bears excellent swimmers.

Well-suited to life in the Arctic, polar bears possess additional features: their large paws act as paddles in the water, and the hairy soles of their paws, along with sharp, curved claws, provide a secure grip on the ice. The nictitating membrane over their eyes acts like sunglasses, protecting polar bears from snow blindness. With their keen sense of smell, they can detect prey hidden beneath the ice.

The fur of polar bears appears white, not only camouflaging these large Arctic inhabitants but also shielding them from the biting cold of the polar region. However, technically, the hairs of polar bears are not white but transparent and hollow. These hairs create an insulating layer of air. Sunlight can penetrate through the hairs onto the bears’ skin, which is black, allowing them to absorb a significant amount of heat when the sun shines. Beneath the skin is a layer of fat, known as blubber, which can be up to 10 cm thick and protects polar bears from the cold of the sea and hunger in the summer.

Despite being skilled hunters, polar bears are increasingly facing challenges in finding enough food to survive the summer. This is due to the increasing melting of ice in the Arctic. Polar bears hunt for seals on the sea ice, migrating northward with the pack ice in spring and returning southward over the sea ice in autumn. Summer has always been a time when polar bears find little to eat. Now, with the disappearing ice, their hunting grounds in winter, the actual hunting season for polar bears, are also vanishing. This poses a significant problem for polar bears because they need ample fat to survive in the cold polar region. With a sufficient fat layer, polar bears can survive up to 200 days without food. Nevertheless, they suffer from hunger more and more and weaken. Increasingly, they venture into human villages, scavenging for food in garbage dumps. Without the ice of the Arctic, polar bears starve, and fewer and fewer cubs are born. Polar bears are facing extinction, making them the symbol of climate protection.