Where Do Polar Bears Live?

Saving the Polar Bears

Two polar bears on a small ice floe
SeppFriedhuber/Vetta/Getty Images

Polar bears are the largest bear species. They can grow to from 8 feet to 11 feet tall and about 8 feet long, and they can weigh in anywhere from 500 pounds to 1,700 pounds. They are easy to recognize due to their white coat and dark eyes and nose. You may have seen polar bears in zoos, but do you know where these iconic marine mammals live in the wild? Knowing can help us help this threatened species survive.

There are 19 different populations of polar bears, and all live in the Arctic region. This is the area that is north of the Arctic Circle, which lies at 66 degrees, 32 minutes North latitude.

If you're hoping to see a polar bear in the wild, you'd need to go to one of the following countries:

  • United States (Alaska)
  • Canada, including the provinces and territories of Manitoba, Newfoundland, Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon Territory)
  • Greenland/Denmark
  • Norway
  • Russian Federation

Polar bears are native to the countries above and occasionally are found in Iceland. Click here for a polar bear range map from the IUCN to view populations. You can see live footage of polar bears in Manitoba here. If you want to see a polar bear in a completely non-native region, you can check out the polar bear camera from the San Diego Zoo.

Why Do Polar Bears Live in Such Cold Areas?

Polar bears are suited to cold areas because they have thick fur and a layer of fat that is 2 inches to 4 inches thick that keeps them warm despite the frigid temperatures.

But the main reason they live in these cold areas is because that is where their prey resides.

Polar bears feed on ice-loving species, such as seals (ringed and bearded seals are their favorites), and sometimes walruses and whales. They stalk their prey by waiting patiently near holes in the ice. This is where the seals surface, and therefore where the polar bears can hunt.

Sometimes they swim below the ice to hunt, directly in the freezing water. They can spend time on land and not just on ice banks, so long as there is access to food. They can also sniff out where seal dens are as another means to find food. They need the fat from the seals to survive and prefer these types of high-fat creatures.

The range of polar bears is "limited by the southern extent of sea ice" (Source: IUCN). This is why we commonly hear about their habitats being threatened; less ice, fewer places to thrive.

Ice is essential for the survival of polar bears. They are a species that is threatened by global warming. You can help polar bears in small ways by reducing your carbon footprint with activities such as walking, riding a bike or using public transportation instead of driving; combining errands so that you use your car less; conserving energy and water, and buying items locally to cut down on the environmental impacts of transportation.

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Kennedy, Jennifer. "Where Do Polar Bears Live?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 10, 2017, thoughtco.com/where-do-polar-bears-live-2291920. Kennedy, Jennifer. (2017, August 10). Where Do Polar Bears Live? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/where-do-polar-bears-live-2291920 Kennedy, Jennifer. "Where Do Polar Bears Live?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/where-do-polar-bears-live-2291920 (accessed January 24, 2018).