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POLAR BEAR } Ursus maritimus

RANGE: Found in and around the Arctic Ocean, with its southern range limited by pack-ice availability and its southernmost occurrence at James Bay in Canada; 20 populations occuring within the jurisdictions of the United States (Alaska), Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, and Russia

STATUS: Listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act thanks to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies

THREATS: Chiefly global warming, which is rapidly causing the bears’ sea-ice habitat to melt away; also oil and gas development, environmental contaminants such as PCBs, industrial noise and harassment from increased Arctic shipping and other activities, and overhunting in some areas

The great white polar bear is the youngest and largest of the world’s bear species — a mighty hunter and fierce defender of its young that is now among the world’s most vulnerable animals. Polar bears could be extinct by 2050 if greenhouse gas-fueled global warming keeps melting their Arctic sea-ice habitat. Polar bears primarily eat ringed seals but also hunt bearded seals, walrus, and beluga whales; they will scavenge on beached carrion such as whale, walrus, and seal carcasses. These bears often eat only seals’ skin and blubber, leaving the carcass for other animals to scavenge and playing a critical role in the Arctic food chain.


Photo © Pete Spruance