Polar Bear

Polar Bear.
Credit: Alan Wilson

Name

  • Common name: Polar Bear
  • Scientific name: Ursus maritimus
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Ursidae

Also known as

White Bear, Ice Bear, Nanuk

Viewing opportunities

  • Herschel Island Territorial Park is just about the only place you’ll be able to spot a Polar Bear in Yukon, though they can occasionally be found on the coast of the North Slope.
  • With no predators, Polar Bears are extremely curious and bold, with no fear of humans. Visitors to the arctic coast are warned to never stray too far from camp without a firearm for protection.

Description

  • Largest of all bears, all white fur, sometimes tinged with yellow stain.
  • Dark nose and eyes.
  • Long streamline body and head.

Fast facts

  • Length: 2.6 m
  • Weight: 400 kg
  • Lifespan: 15 to 18 years
  • Predators: Humans
  • Habitat: Marine and Coastal

Conservation Status

What is conservation status?

  • Yukon: S1 (Critically Imperiled)
  • Global: G3 (Vulnerable)

Yukon population estimate

1,500 polar bears in all of the Southern Beaufort Sea, including Alaska and NWT.

Behaviour

The largest of Yukon’s three bear species, Polar Bears spend much of their lives out on the sea ice hunting. During summer they can be found on land at the coast or way off on remaining sea ice. In autumn, when the Beaufort Sea ice moves southward until it joins with the Yukon coast, Polar Bears return to the better seal hunting areas over shallow coastal waters. Polar Bears are superb swimmers and are hyper-carnivorous, eating little plant matter.

Diet

Ringed Seals, Bearded Seals, beached whales and other marine mammals.

Distribution

Polar Bear distribution map.

Sights and sounds

Polar Bear track, hind.
Polar Bear track, hind: 17.3 x 19.8 cm.

Polar Bear track in mud.
Track in mud.

Polar Bears and people

  • Inuvialuit peoples used to hunt Polar Bears by using dogs to distract the bear, then shooting arrows or throwing spears at the bear. Hunters believed that they would only be successful if they treated the bear properly after death.
  • Loss of sea ice may drive more Polar Bears onto land and potentially into conflict with people.