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Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) Fact Sheet: Distribution & Habitat

Distribution & Habitat

  • Circumpolar distribution throughout Arctic
  • Primary habitat: North Polar Basin, annual sea ice fields attached to shorelines.
  • Evolutionarily adapted to sea ice; most remain on ice year-round, spending only short periods on land (Only 7% of Polar Bears' time is spent on land, mostly in maternal dens). A few bears occupy permanent pack ice found in the central Arctic basin.
  • Not evenly distributed throughout range on sea ice; show preference for certain sea ice characteristics (Stirling 1993) and location (near continental shelf). (Derocher 2004)
  • Most abundant near shore (in shallow water areas) where currents increase marine productivity and keep the ice cover from becoming too consolidated in winter.
  • Cracks and holes in ice give polar bears access to seals coming up from water below.
  • Distribution in most areas varies seasonally with extent of sea ice cover and availability of prey.
  • Suitable sea ice cover has declined in last decades and the decline is accelerating. Vulnerable young and old bears are highly stressed under such conditions.
  • Polar Bear denning sites are critical for the survival of the cubs. Most dens are found near the coastlines, with the exception of the Hudson Bay area where they may den as far as 118 km (73 mi) inland; denning sites may also be located on drifting pack ice in many areas
  • Countries with Polar Bear populations
    • United States (Wrangel Island, western Alaska, northern Alaska)
    • Canada (Manitoba, Newfoundland, Labrador, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Quebec, Yukon Territory, Ontario)
    • Denmark/Greenland
    • Russian Federation
    • Norway (plus Svalbard-Franz Josef Land)

Distribution Map

Polar bear distribution map


According to IUCN fact sheet. Click here or on map for detailed distribution from IUCN.

Page Citations

Amstrup & Gardner (1994)
DeMaster & Stirling (1981)
Derocher et al (2004)
Durner et al (2006)
Stirling (1993)
Travis (1994)

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