21 Polar Bear Pictures That Will Melt Your Heart
These beautiful marine mammals hunt, sleep, and raise their families on what’s left of the Arctic ice.
Polar bears in trouble
As the Guardian and other outlets reported this past year, receding sea ice, shorter icy periods, and general Arctic warming have led to dire conditions for these denizens of the far North. They’re losing the ice on which they hunt, on which they raise their cubs, on which they hibernate, and to which they are very specifically and distinctly suited in every way. As a result, some of their populations are dwindling and others are seeing many in their ranks go hungry as they try, miserably, to adapt. How to help: you can start by signing Polar Bears International’s petitions on behalf of both the bears and the ice. Meanwhile, let these amazing photos cause a twinge to your heartstrings. Find out how many polar bears are left in the world.
Taking a load off
Given the opportunity to live a regular old day during a regular old Arctic winter, a polar bear will take a nap on the ice, especially after eating a tasty seal, according to Polar Bears International. Naps are a critical part of a polar bear’s daily habit; they let him conserve much-needed energy for hunting and staying warm in frigid temperatures. These 12 wild animals became endangered in 2019 alone.
Sticking close to mom
Receding ice and all the challenges that brings to polar bears are hitting cubs especially hard. As Reuters reported back in 2011, with less ice to stand and hunt on, cubs are having to swim greater distances, which they lack the strength and stamina for. As a result, a study found that cubs required to swim greater distances had higher mortality rates than those that did not. Those rates are most certainly on the rise as more ice melts.
Future fierce fighter
Sure, this polar bear cub is the picture of adorableness as he snuggles with mom. But even at this young age, males play fight in order to hone their hunting and defense skills, according to WWF. Males are especially aggressive during breeding season and when they catch someone trying to steal their dinner (who wouldn’t be?). Learn about the penguin species that could disappear before the end of the century.
An extremely important behavior for a polar bear is bathing. As Polar Bears International points out, getting the dirt and sticks out of their fur actually insulates them and helps them stay warm. Usually after feeding, they’ll take a dip and lick off their faces, chests, and paws, then shake off on top of the ice; they might also rub their bodies in the snow to clean up. See if you can spot the animals camouflaged in these 17 photos.
Ready to play
Cheryl Ramalho/Getty Images
Yes, standing on your hind legs can be useful for surveying the tundra for a bite to eat. But it’s also a behavior that polar bears engage in when they’re ready to play—normally with their paws at their sides and their chins lowered to their chests, says the Ocean Conservancy.
Dining on ice
We can’t stress it enough: Polar bears are at home on the ice, and ice makes their way of life possible. And while, yes, hunting seals is one of the prime benefits to bears of an icy Arctic, a recent study found that the ice is the source of an unexpected necessity, reports National Geographic. It contains calories in the form of sea ice algae, which researchers now believe provide some 70 percent of nutrients that at least three sub-populations of polar bears rely on n order to thrive. Find out if polar bears would be able to adapt to a warmer climate.
Call of the wild
Like the rest of us, polar bears communicate with sound. They’ll hiss and snort when they’re spoiling for a fight. A mother bear will give a low growl when she’s scolding a cub. A deep growl means beware, while a loud roar means a bear is mightily angry. Step waaay back if you hear it; polar bears can kill prey twice their size.
Polar bears also give off lots of non-vocal, physical cues about what they’re feeling. A playful mood is signified by a bear wagging her head from side to side, a nose-to-nose touch is a form of polite greeting, while a rushing movement from a mother bear occurs when a male is threatening her cubs.
In a sea of blue
Here’s an artistic rendering at what could be in store for the future: a bear catching a ride on a skimpy ice floe. Polar bears rely heavily on sturdy and extensive sea ice in order to hunt prey and live their best lives. But with ice melting, that way of life is significantly threatened. Melting glaciers have serious repercussions for humans, too.