What Do Polar Bears Eat?

Discover Marine Mammals

Polar Bear Eating Seal
Polar bear eating Ringed Seal in winter, Churchill Wildlife Management Area, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Polar bears are often common in the mainstream media and get a lot of attention due to their threatened populations. In addition to questions about their habitat, you may wonder what they eat?

Polar bears are one of the largest bear species (many sources say they are the largest). They can grow anywhere from 8 feet to 11 feet in height and about 8 feet in length. Polar bears weigh about 500 to 1,700 pounds, and they live the cold Arctic -- in parts of Alaska, Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Norway, and Russia.

They are large marine mammals with a varied appetite.

What Do Polar Bears Eat? 

The preferred prey for polar bears are seals -- the species they prey upon most often are ringed seals and bearded seals, two species that are members of the group of seals known as "ice seals." They are known as ice seals because they need ice for giving birth, nursing, resting, and finding prey.

Ringed seals are one of the most common seal species in the Arctic. They are a small seal that grows to about 5 feet in length and about 150 pounds in weight. They live on top of, and underneath the ice, and use claws on their front flippers to dig breathing holes in the ice. A polar bear will patiently wait for the seal to surface to breathe or climb onto the ice, and then it will swat it with its claws or pounce on it. The polar bear feeds primarily on the seal's skin and blubber, leaving the meat and carcass for scavengers.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, a polar bear may kill a ringed seal every two to six days.

Bearded seals are larger, and grow from 7 feet to 8 feet in length. They weigh 575 to 800 pounds. Polar bears are their main predator. Unlike the more open breathing holes of ringed seals, the breathing holes of bearded seals are capped with ice, which may make them less easy to detect.

If their preferred prey isn't available, polar bears will feed on walruses, whale carcasses, or even garbage if they live near humans. Polar bears have a strong sense of smell, which comes in handy for finding prey, even from long distances -- and even in cold weather.

What Eats Polar Bears?

Do polar bears have predators? Polar bear predators include killer whales (orcas), possibly sharks and humans. Polar bear cubs may be killed by smaller animals, such as wolves, and other polar bears.

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Kennedy, Jennifer. "What Do Polar Bears Eat?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 10, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-do-polar-bears-eat-2291919. Kennedy, Jennifer. (2017, August 10). What Do Polar Bears Eat? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-do-polar-bears-eat-2291919 Kennedy, Jennifer. "What Do Polar Bears Eat?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-do-polar-bears-eat-2291919 (accessed January 19, 2018).