Special Report

They’re Not Really White and 19 Other Fascinating Facts About Polar Bears

Source: Adam Deer / Getty Images

They are the world’s largest land-based carnivores.

They’re not the world’s largest carnivores by a long shot. That honor goes to the squid-eating sperm whale, which can grow to a length of 60 feet and a weight of 80,000 pounds. But on dry (or icy) land, polar bears hold the title, weighing up to 1,320 pounds and stretching as much as eight-and-a-half feet from nose to tail.

Source: Zoo Berlin / Getty Images

Their cubs weigh only about a pound at birth.

Polar bear cubs are tiny at first, not much more than a foot long, and blind and toothless. They grow fast, however, nourished for at least 20 months by their mothers’ very rich milk. It has a fat content of 31% to 35%, the highest of any bear species (cow’s milk is typically only 3% to 4% fat).

Source: KeithSzafranski / Getty Images

Twins run in their families.

Mother polar bears give birth to anywhere from one to three cubs at a time, with twins being the most common. In 2003, Canadian researchers discovered a rare pair of identical twin polar bear cubs.

Source: Saddako / Getty Images


Their coats aren’t really white.

The shafts of hair on a polar bear are hollow and transparent, but they appear white because the air spaces in each hair scatter light of all colors, and our eyes see white when all visible wavelengths of light are reflected. The skin underneath the hair is actually black.

Source: The Polar Bear Programme / Russian Geographical Society

Scientists divide the world’s polar bear population into 19 units or sub-populations.

According to the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the polar bear population of one of these irregularly shaped and variously sized units, Southern Beaufort Sea, bordering Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territories, is in decline.

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