If the polar bear is an international icon, Coca-Cola has something to do with the situation: It first used an image of the animal in a print ad in France in 1922, and for the next 70 years or so, polar bears showed up now and again in the soft drink’s campaigns. In 1993, the first Coke animated polar bears appeared, achieving stardom of a sort in a couple of commercials for the 1994 Olympic Games, and becoming a familiar symbols for the beverage in subsequent years.
Of course, the amiable, slightly goofy polar bears of Coca-Cola fame don’t have a lot in common with, so to speak, the real thing. In a campaign from 1996, for instance, a chubby polar bear cub is shown sharing a star-covered red ball and a bottle of Coke with a seal cub — when in real life, the bear would likely be making the seal his dinner.
Though they are among the largest animals on earth, polar bears are often described as “cute,” and somehow seem less threatening than the brown or black bears from warmer climes. In fact, though, they can be dangerous beasts. While attacks on humans by polar bears used to be rare occurrences, they have been increasing in recent years. Fifteen such attacks were recorded between 2010 and 2014 alone, a record for so short a period. This appears to be happening because, as sea ice disappears through the effects of climate change, the bears spend more time on land, meaning that they come into contact with more people.
And as sea ice shrinks, polar bears have not only less room to range but also fewer opportunities to hunt for food. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management plans to sell oil and gas drilling leases this year for 1.6 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which will further drive polar bears and other wildlife out of their natural habitat.
Polar bears are remarkable animals, worth learning about and appreciating. February 27, in fact, is International Polar Bear Day, dedicated to drawing attention to the challenges polar bears face in a warming Arctic environment. In honor of the occasion, 24/7 Wall St. has assembled 20 interesting facts about these fascinating creatures.