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Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) Fact Sheet: Summary

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) Fact Sheet

Polar bear

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.


Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Describer (Date): Phipps (1774)

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Ursidae

Genus: Ursus

Species: Ursus maritimus

Head/Body Length:
Female: 200 cm (6.6 ft)
Male: 250 cm (8.2 ft)

Tail: 76-127 mm (3-5 in)

Female: 200-300 kg (441-661 lb)
Male: 400-600 kg (882-1,323 lb)

Coat: Varies with season and light. White/yellow/gray. Nose, lips, and skin are black,

Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

Range: Canada; Greenland; Norway; Russia;
USA (circumpolar / Arctic)

Habitat: Annual ice fields over shallow coastal waters
are main habitat; denning sites for pregnant females
are on land near shore, and less often, on pack ice.

IUCN Status: Vulnerable (2015 assessment)

CITES Status: Appendix II

Populations in the Wild: approximately 26,000 individuals

Locomotion: Walks "flat-footed (plantigrade);
excellent swimmer; can't run without overheating

Activity Cycle: Depends on season in wild

Social Groups: Generally solitary except for
females with cubs and courtship/mating period

Communication: Minimal vocalization; highly
developed sense of smell

Diet: Mainly skin and blubber of ringed seals

Predators: Humans; one documented case
of a Greenland shark with juvenile polar bear
remains (perhaps scavenged) in its stomach.

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Sexual Maturity:
Females: 4-8 years
Males: 6 years usual, but as early as 3 years

Gestation: Delayed implantation 195-265 days
from time of conception

Litter Size: 2 (70-80 % of births); occasionally 3;
rarely 4

Birth weight: 600-700 gm (1 lb 5 oz to 1 lb 9 oz)

Early development: Born Nov-Jan, emerge from den Mar-Apr weighing 11 kg (24 lbs)

Age at Weaning: 24-28 months; nurse
at least 1 year

Longevity: 6 bears have lived longer than
40 years in managed care

Feature Facts 

  • Wild female polar bears remain in their dens for up to 8 months while pregnant, giving birth, and nursing cubs, living on their body fat stores; during this time they do not eat, drink,defecate or urinate.
  • An experienced adult will catch a seal every 4-5 days.
  • Global warming will lead to increased nutritional stress and as a result, their numbers may decline significantly.
  • The San Diego Zoo acquired its first polar bear in 1917 (one year after opening).
  • In spring 2010, a renovated Polar Bear Plunge exhibit showcasing climate changes affecting these ice-dependent predators opens at the zoo

About This Fact Sheet

© 2009-2019 San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Minor updates 2015. Population estimates updated Feb 2019.

How to cite: Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) Fact Sheet. c2009-2019. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. polarbear
(Note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2015 Jan 15)

Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to

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