Underwater Athletes of the Arctic
These magnificent creatures, among the best swimmers in the animal world, are now under serious threat, as the Arctic ice is melting at an unprecedented rate, meaning their habitats are disappearing.
Underwater Athletes of the Arctic
Polar bears inhabit, for the most part, places within the Arctic Circle, including the Arctic Ocean, and the surrounding land masses. The largest land carnivore on earth, besides being largest of the bears, though Kodiak Bears are a similar size. Fully grown males weigh between 800 to 1500lb, adult females half the size. The problem, for this amazing predator, is global warming.
Having developed, by evolution, to occupy an extremely restricted ecological niche, Polar bears have body characteristics, that are adapted for arctic temperatures, moving safely across snow, ice, and open water, as well as for the hunting of seals, on which they mainly feed. Although born on land, naturally, the majority of these bears spend large parts of their time at sea, able to hunt consistently, only from sea ice, spending, therefore, much of the year on the frozen sea, looking out for prey.
Now officially classified as a vulnerable species, 8 of 19 polar bear subpopulations, that are known, are in serious decline. Unrestricted hunting, over many years, eventually raised public awareness. Hunting was largely banned, and Polar bear populations rebounded, controls and quotas, put in place for their protection, began to take effect, restricting access to them.
With, of necessity, extremely well-developed olfactory abilities, enabling them being to detect seals a full mile away, buried under 3 ft of snow, the Polar bear is a fearsome predator, with hearing equal to that of a human, and good long distance vision. These huge creatures are incredible swimmers, too, individuals having been seen, in open Arctic waters up to 200 miles from land of any kind. Layered body fat provides the buoyancy the bear needs, swimming, doggy-paddle style, using its large forepaws, at 6 miles/hour or more.
This, undoubtedly most carnivorous member of the bear family, eats seals mainly, but they are not choosy. Millions of seals inhabit Arctic waters, becoming prey when they surface, needing to breathe, or when they haul out, onto the ice itself to rest, temporarily. Polar bears rarely catch seals on land or in open water, but that acute sense of smell to locate a seal breathing hole, and crouches silently nearby, patiently awaiting the appearance of a seal.
Smelling the exhaled breath of the seal, the bear reaches, with a forepaw, into the hole and drags the prey onto the ice, killing the seal by biting the head with enough force to crush its skull, ending resistance. Bears also hunt by stalking seals resting on the ice, creeping ever so slowly and silently toward the unsuspecting prey, before launching the fatal strike. The bears also quite often raid the birth lairs, that female seals have created in the snow, to get the pups, for a tasty snack.
These magnificent creatures, among the best swimmers in the animal world, are now under serious threat, as the Arctic ice is melting at an unprecedented rate, meaning their habitats are disappearing. We can only pray that there is still time for man to at least slow down the warming effects of his actions, so that these incredible creatures do not vanish from nature. Truly a desperate tragedy, that just has to be averted.