Polar Bear Notecard

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Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)

At ease with the brutal Arctic cold, the unending winter darkness, and the crushing ice pack, the polar bear rules in dignity. A creature of myth and mystery: to the Eskimos these bears were shamans in touch with the spirit world. Golden hued in the slanting light of the polar sun, who would seem more sovereign than the Ice Bear? Possessed of power and prowess and mammal warmth, resembling us humans, wrapped in rich robes, and commanding our respect like ancestors, these bears populate many an arctic tale. Gentlest of all the bears, they were a companion of kings, and lived as mascots in palaces from the days of the Pharaohs and on through the Middle Ages.

Polar bears often weigh a half a ton or more and approach five feet high at the shoulders. Their paws are a foot wide, enabling them to snowshoe across the arctic or paddle frigid waters. Polar bears are good swimmers and can go nonstop for hundreds of miles. Bold and beautiful, polar bears have large flowing muscles and are ready for instant action; they are lightning fast. They can leap across great fissures and can scale walls of ice that tower above them. Their food of choice is seal which they hunt by waiting at seal's breathing holes in the ice. So powerful and swift is the Ice Bear that they can yank a seal through a hole in the ice so small that the seal's body collapses; the bones broken. Polar bears probably taught the Eskimos how to hunt seal.

But for all their dignity polar bears are fond of a good time; mischief seems to be a part of their makeup. They are rarely hurried, they appear to pause and consider. Sleeping or awake they assume any of several dozen postures from comic to bizarre.

White on white, polar bears are keenly adapted to the austere arctic environment. Humans pose the only threat to this supreme predator; humans methodically and efficiently hunt seals, the main food of the polar bear. In addition humans are the main predator of the bear itself.

artwork by Linda Matusich © 1994 

text by Peter Fortunato