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How many polar bears are left in the world?

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There are an estimated 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears left in the world, not including the roughly 300 polar bears in captivity. However, a recent Reuters article noted that polar bear populations in Canada's West Hudson Bay have declined by 27% in five years. By 2021, only 618 polar bears will remain in the region. Experts predict that the world's polar bear population will collapse by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed.

What is a polar bear?

The strongest animal bites a polar bear
Polar bears are the largest land carnivores on Earth.

© Zhiltsov Alexander/Shutterstock.com

The polar bear, scientifically known as Ursus maritimus , is the largest bear species in the world. Not only that, but they are the largest land carnivores on the planet. They are known for their enormous size, ability to withstand extreme cold, and striking white fur.

But did you know that polar bears are not actually white? Their skin is black, but covered by two coats of fur. The undercoat is dense, while the outer coat is translucent, reflecting the color of its surroundings. Because polar bears live in snow and ice, they appear white. In addition to being effective camouflage, this outer coat helps absorb heat from the sun for warmth.

Polar bears have massive bodies with thick shoulders, a thick layer of fat for insulation, and lumpy claws that help them swim. They're objectively bigger than the dreaded Kodiak bear!

Female polar bears can reach lengths of 6-8 feet and weigh 300-700 pounds. Male bears are much larger, sometimes double or even triple the size of females. Male polar bears can reach a maximum length of 8-10 feet, and they typically weigh between 800-1300 pounds. The largest known polar bear stands 11 feet tall on its hind legs and weighs 2,209 pounds!

How many polar bears are left in the world?

do bears have tails
There are approximately 22,000-31,000 polar bears left in the world.

© Mario_Hoppmann/Shutterstock.com

There are an estimated 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears left in the world. And that doesn't include the more than 300 polar bears in captivity. While these numbers aren't serious enough to warrant endangered status, they're still not serious enough to be comforting.

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Are polar bears endangered?

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) lists polar bears as vulnerable. This means that although they are not so rare that they are endangered, extinction is still a threat. Conservationists often consider polar bears "the poster child for climate change" because their status has been under serious concern for decades.

Many factors negatively impact polar bear populations:

climate change

As our climate warms, Arctic ice is melting. Polar bears rely on ice for nearly every aspect of their lives, including hunting, resting, traveling, mating, and even burrowing. As the ice melts, the water level rises. This reduces habitat size and forces polar bears to move further inland, where they may come into conflict with humans.

It also increases the difficulty of catching prey. Polar bears use the ice as a platform to hunt seals, their favorite food. Seals use blowholes in the ice when surfacing for air, giving bears an opportunity to attack them. Seals also use the ice to bask in the sun, making themselves vulnerable.


Pollution is a serious threat to polar bears. The Arctic may look clean and fresh, but it is actually full of pollutants. These chemicals, metals and plastics are carried to the Arctic by air and ocean currents, where they are ingested by organisms at the bottom of the food chain. When other animals eat these organisms, the pollutants move up the food chain. By the time polar bears swallow them, the pollutants are highly concentrated and capable of causing significant damage.


With their ferocious reputation and magnificent fur, polar bears are attractive targets for trophy and sport hunters. Polar bear hunting has been banned in the United States, except for Alaska Natives. There is no limit to them, as long as they are not wasteful.

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However, this type of hunting is still legal in some parts of Canada. Policy differences between the U.S. and Canada have left dozens of dead polar bears stranded in Canada after U.S. hunters returned home.

Where can you find polar bears?

polar bear in arctic water
Polar bears mainly live north of the Arctic Circle.


Polar bears mainly live north of the Arctic Circle, but some populations also live south of Hudson Bay in Canada. Polar bears live in the United States (Alaska), Canada, Russia, Greenland, and some Norwegian islands. They mainly live on ice, but as climate change causes widespread melting, humans may encounter them inland. Also known as sea bears, polar bears are excellent swimmers, traveling at speeds of up to 6 miles per hour in the water.

Do polar bears live in Antarctica? No they didn't! Although the conditions in the Arctic and Antarctic are similar, from the severe cold to the availability of ice and seals, bears of all kinds exist only in the northern hemisphere. This is due to where they happen to evolve and not necessarily environmental factors. The north and south poles were never connected, so polar bears never had a chance to migrate.

Ecologists speculate that polar bears would do just fine in Antarctica. Maybe a little too much. Local populations of seals, birds and penguins are not used to large land predators and may not be vigilant enough. This can lead to overfeeding and ecosystem collapse.

Diet and Predators of Polar Bears

Polar bear just caught dead seal
Polar bears' favorite prey are ringed or bearded seals due to their high fat content.

©iStock.com/AGAMI Stock

Polar bears are top predators, surviving on the meat and fat of their prey. Their favorite prey are seals, especially ringed and bearded seals. These animals are extremely high in fat; this is necessary for polar bears to maintain their own fat reserves. They mainly eat skin and fat, often leaving the meat for other carnivores. Other food sources include narwhals, beluga whales, walruses, musk oxen, caribou, fish, eggs, and rodents. Berries and litter can supplement their diet.

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Now the real question: Do polar bears prey on humans? The answer is yes; sometimes, they do. This has become a bigger problem as their habitat shrinks and they are driven more inland. Polar bears prefer non-human prey, but if their daily food supply is insufficient, they will eat anything they can. Due to their enormous strength, the attacks of these carnivores are often fatal.

Here's an example of a dog chasing away a polar bear that got too close to its owner!

Polar Bear Reproduction and Lifespan

Heaviest Animal: Polar Bear
Female polar bears give birth to 1-4 cubs at a time. These pups are born completely helpless.

© Alexey Seafarer/Shutterstock.com

Polar bears usually breed from April to May. The pups are pregnant for up to 9 months, after which the female gives birth to a litter of 1-4 pups. After digging a nest, she puts them into hibernation until spring. Cubs are usually weaned at 2-3 years of age, after which they leave their mother and strike out on their own. Polar bears are solitary animals, except for mother bears with cubs.

In the wild, polar bears can live up to 25-30 years. This number can increase to over 30 years in captivity.

Polar bears are powerful carnivores at the top of the food chain. They are a magnificent sight both in the wild and in captivity.


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More from AZ Animals

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Top Predator: Polar Bears
The polar bear is a solitary animal and not only can run at speeds of up to 25 mph, but its prodigious ability to swim at 6 mph makes it a true apex predator in its environment. These semi-aquatic mammals can hunt on ice as well as in water, and have been known to swim great distances in the open ocean in search of food.

© Vaclav Sebek/Shutterstock.com

about the author

Catherine Duke

I am a freelance writer with experience in both fiction and non-fiction. When I'm not writing on the page, I enjoy reading, hiking outside, and playing with my dog.

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