Popularly known as the deadliest beast of the Arctic, it can even defeat an African Lion in a face-off. As calm as it looks, underestimating the animal’s wrath can be a huge mistake.
In places where humans might freeze to death, this animal walks with utmost ease.
It loves preying on seals, has an exceptionally great sense of smell, and is the relative of the Brown Bear. We’re talking about none other than the Polar bear – deadliest beast of the arctic.
Deadliest Beast of the Arctic
If you’ve ever been to Yellowknife’s Explorer Hotel, you’ve probably seen the massive stuffed polar bear looming over you in the lobby. It appears lurking in the background of nearly every guest’s selfies. Lucky for them, it’s expired. If that bear here real, there’d be plenty of carnage at the scene.
Still, even looking at the stuffed animal’s massive size is enough to carry the message Northerners know very well: polar bears are damn scary. They’re called the King of the Arctic and are at the top of the Arctic food chain for a reason.
“They don’t lay awake at night, wondering if something is going to try and eat them, that’s for sure,” says biologist Mike Setterington.
These animals are known to be the biggest carnivores in North America and can smell meat from miles away. They average about 450 kilograms and have massive paws that are nearly 30 centimetres wide, with razor claws that are five centimetres long.
Despite its incredible size, it can outrun humans and can easily crush its prey’s head with its jaws.
However, according to Setterington, “the toughest thing about them is their ability to find food.”
Setterington has worked with polar bears many times over the years in Nunavut, where he has seen some get quite skinny when it’s not seal-hunting season. The bear then has to find food wherever it can. Setterington adds he would often see them feeding on whale carcasses near Arviat during the month of October.
“We start to see them more and more inland.”
But when a polar bear does go in for the kill, it is exceptionally patient and ready at a moment’s notice.
Mostly hunting ringed seals, the polar bear will sit and wait for hours for a seal to emerge. Then, when the seal raises its head from the ice, the bear will freeze in place before pouncing from as far as six metres away. Polar bears often wait for prey on ice floes and can swim for several days, as far as 320 kilometres from land.
“Certainly, anything swimming in that cold water is going to be a tough animal,” says Setterington.
Polar bears are called the King of the Arctic, and they’re at the top of the Arctic food chain for a reason.
What do polar bears eat?
Polar bears have evolved to prey on ringed and bearded seals, which they catch from a platform of sea ice.
Polar bears depend on the high-fat content that seals provide, but will take other prey when available.
How the bears hunt seals
In fall, a seal cuts 10 to 15 breathing holes (known as aglus by Canadian Inuit) in the ice, using the sharp claws on its fore flippers.
Seals keep their breathing holes open all winter long, even in ice up to 2 m (6 ft) thick. They surface about every 5 to 15 minutes at one of the holes or use air pockets trapped under the ice when available.
Polar bears attack by waiting for seals to breathe at the openings. They locate them with their powerful sense of smell and wait for the seals to emerge. Polar bears have to be smart and patient because the wait can be long—sometimes hours, or even days.
Bears also stalk ringed seals that are basking on ice by taking advantage of their sleep-wake rhythms.
The bear crawls slowly forward and freezes in place when the animal raises its head. At about 6 m (20 ft) from the seal, the bear uses its explosive speed to pounce, killing the seal before it can escape back into the sea.For a polar bear, fat is fit.
A thick layer of fat helps keep the bears warm. It also helps them survive when food is scarce. That’s why seal blubber is the perfect food for polar bears.
A polar bear can eat 45 kg (100 lbs) of seal blubber in a single sitting!
When hunting is good and polar bears are in good condition, they may eat only the seal’s blubber and skin. They leave the rest for scavengers like Arctic foxes, ravens, and other bears.
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