Ursus maritimus


Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Ursidae

Genus: Ursus

Species: U. maritimus

I am going to the Arctic, it’s going to be very cold and I am going to see Ursas maritimus aka the polar bear.  The polar bear has a few names; the great bear, the white bear, the sea bear, the white sea deer, the ice bear or even God’s dog. These names depend on where you are in the Arctic.

My personal favorite is the sea bear.

I have never seen a polar bear; I’ve seen images online, video, and when in Svalbard I saw a stuffed one.  This animal intrigues me and I want to know more about it, but … it also scares the living daylights out of me. We will be counting bears on the expedition or, as Arctic Andy calls it ‘polar bear twitching’.

The sea bear live in the most extreme of environments, they can kill you and they have become a symbol for climate change. If the ice melts the bear will suffer, along with every other species on the planet.

I have been given a ‘Polar Bear manual’ which looks at the characteristics and behaviour of the bear, and what to do if we see one on expedition. I have also spent a lot of time online learning about the bear, and giving myself the fear! I am excited about going to the Arctic and having the opportunity to see the sea bear in its natural habitat but, my gosh, I’m hoping that I don’t come too close.  They are quite frankly, pretty darn scary, but they look cute….

The polar bear:

  • Polar bears are only found in the Arctic
  • Their hair isn’t actually white. Each hair shaft is made up of hollow fibers and pigment free – this allows the hair to scatter and reflect the visible light.
  • The adult male can weigh over 700 kg and reach a height of more than 1 metre at the shoulder!
  •  The adult female (or sow) is an average weight of 300 kg.
  • They are fast and can run up to 40 kph over short distance.
  • There are 19 sub-population of polar bear in the Arctic but we only know about 5.
  • A pregnant female bear goes into a den in the autumn after feeding heavily in August and September. She will emerge in March or April, just in time for our expedition.
  • The male bear patrols the Arctic, hunting for food, all year round.
  • A team of slow Homo sapiens, skiing over the ice might look like a tasty meal.
  • Their diet of Ringed seal means they need to be close to the ice when they emerge from their den with cubs…. but the ice is breaking up.
  • Their paws measure up to 12 inches across and help distribute weight when treading on thin ice.
  • And finally, a claw can measure over 2 inches long!

If you want to know more about Ursas maritimus I recommend taking a look at Polar Bears International – they have lots of useful information on their website. The WWF, the Polar Bear Trust and Live Science also offer expert information.

p.s I can’t remember why the genus and species has to be written in italics but I’d love someone to remind me … my biology A Level days feel like some time ago.

p.p.s the image with this post is from my new favorite t-shirt 🙂