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Where Do Polar Bears Live?


Two polar bears on a small ice floe
SeppFriedhuber/Vetta/Getty Images
Question: Where Do Polar Bears Live?
Polar bears are the largest bear species. They can grow to 8-11 feet tall and about 8 feet long, and weigh about 500-1,700 pounds. They are easily-recognized 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?

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.

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 cam from the San Diego Zoo.

Why Do Polar Bears Live in Such Cold Areas?

Polar bears are suited to cold areas by having thick fur and a layer of fat (that is 2-4" thick) to keep them warm. But the main reason they live in these cold areas is their prey.

Polar bears feed on ice-loving species, such as seals (ringed and bearded seals are favorites), and sometimes walruses and whales. They stalk their prey by waiting patiently near holes in the ice. The range of polar bears is "limited by the southern extent of sea ice" (Source: IUCN).

Ice is essential for the survival of polar bears - so they are a species that is threatened by global warming. You can help polar bears 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 locally.

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