Icons of the Arctic
Its Latin name, Ursus maritimus, means 'sea bear', an apt name for this amazing species which spends much of its life in, around, or on the ocean - predominantly on the sea ice.
Polar Bear Basics
Scientific Name: Ursus maritimus
Inuktitut Name: Nanuk or nanuq
Weight: 352-680 kg
Length: 2-3 m
Population: 22,000-31,000 polar bears worldwide
Download the Polar Bear Factsheet (PDF)
Where the bears are
In Canada and across the Arctic, WWF supports polar bear studies that determine the number of bears in the 19 sub-populations, the health of bears, and state of sea ice habitat. This research sometimes includes attaching satellite tracking devices to the bears, to help us understand their movements and habitat requirements. Take a look at the map below to learn more about the polar bears we are currently tracking!
Why is the polar bear important?As an apex predator at the top of the food web, polar bears can signal that there are problems in the Arctic marine ecosystem. They are likely to be among the most significantly affected species as the Arctic warms and sea ice melts.
Polar bears evolved to live on sea ice, which is melting at a troubling rate. Less time on sea ice means more months without access to ringed seals, their primary food, is putting the species at risk.
Read about all Arctic threats.
What WWF is doing
Learn more about WWF’s work in the Arctic.
Did you know?
Pizzlies or Grolar Bears?
Life on the sea ice
The ice is much more than just a platform to move and hunt – sea ice is the foundation of Arctic marine life, the ecosystem on which bears rely for every aspect of their lives. It is where they mate and raise their cubs. Sea ice is also essential habitat for their primary food, ringed seals, as seals pup and rest on the ice.
Where the polar bears rangePolar bears live in Canada, the U.S., Greenland, Norway, and Russia. Scientists from the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group divide them into 19 sub-populations for monitoring and management purposes.
Life off the sea ice
Learn more about WWF’s work to keep polar bears and people safe.
Adapting to a new and changing Arctic
Current knowledge shows that polar bears have some capacity to adjust to the warming Arctic, but the loss of sea ice habitat may be happening too rapidly to allow for adaptation and there are no substitutes on land for the fat rich seals on which the bears depend. More northern polar bear populations may have an advantage, as the rate of sea habitat loss is lower - at least for now.
Learn more about WWF’s efforts to determine where the sea ice will be most resilient, the Last Ice Area, and what this will mean for polar bears.
To better understand the impact of oil spills on Canada's Beaufort Sea, an important habitat for polar bears, WWF has completed an oil spill trajectory modeling project. Explore the risks of oil spills for communities, wildlife and ecosystems in the Beaufort Sea at arcticspills.wwf.ca.
The level and pace of change is new to the Arctic, and all involved are working to understand what it will mean for the future of the region and all those who call it home.
Inuit are cautiously optimistic that polar bears will adapt to a changing climate and have reported local increases in polar bear numbers in some areas of the Arctic. There is a need to use both Inuit knowledge and scientific information to plan for a healthy future for polar bears and people in the North.
What is certain is that polar bears will face a difficult future without sea ice, which has been the foundation of their lives for hundreds of thousands of years.