The Polar Bear and New Research

9 01 2009

Canadian Carnivores

It may come as a surprise to some, but the largest Canadian Carnivore is not the four hundred pound monster sitting at the far end of your local A.&W./Arby’s/Macdonalds scarfing his way through a stack of burgers. Indeed the title of  ‘largest’, is reserved to a an even more fearsome predator – the polar bear. The largest polar bear recorded weighed five times the burger guy and was almost twice his height.

polar-bear

Fortunately, the vast majority of Canadian citizens live in close proximity to the American border, far from the Arctic tundra and the attentions of this animal, who although spending brief times on land, is essentially a sea bear. Like most bears it is quite willing to accept opportunistic food in the form of dead carcasses of seals, walruses and whales, but its principal prey is the ringed seal.  This it hunts with the aid of a hyper sensitive nose that can detect a seal up to a mile away, even if it lies under three feet of snow and ice. In summer the bears are driven onto the land by the melting sea ice and largely fast until the sea freezes again. Then it returns to travel the pack ice and the ice flows in search of seal blowholes hoping to ambush a meal. They are solitary animals, with the males forming a hierarchy according to size and aggressiveness that results in many a young adult losing a successful kill to an older bear.

The exception to the life of lonely wandering is the first two or so years when the cubs are essentially helpless and travel wherever their mother leads them until they are fully weaned. Like other carnivores, the early months involve much play as a means of instilling the necessary hunting skills for later life.

3-lazy-polar-bears

But sea temperatures are rising and as a result malnutrition is becoming a serious threat to certain polar bear populations. Their whole world is highly dependent on water in both its liquid and frozen forms. Although able to swim faster than it can run the bears can still not hope to catch seals or other marine life underwater. Their swimming skills are just not highly enough evolved. It is only when the sea freezes and the seals must create breathing holes that the scales become tipped in their favour.

Despite living in a world of water the polar bear has a real problem with hydration. Their is no fresh water to drink, the brutal cold ensures that it can exist only in the frozen form. There is snow, but again it is an impossibility to sustain a huge body by eating snow. So the bear has adapted and obtains almost all the moisture it requires from its prey. For many years this lead researchers to prognosticate that polar bear physiology was so attuned to its environment that unlike its brown bear cousins [ who are well known to” shit in the woods”] it simply did not defecate. So great was the need for water to sustain its enormous body that the polar bear could not afford to excrete any moisture at all.

It may be hard for the layman to fully comprehend the frisson of excitement that is currently pulsing through the scientific community. Remarkable photographs taken by an intrepid Canadian have shown that the marine bear does indeed void solids from its body. Reproduced below is one of these photographs showing a considerable evacuation. Note not only the number but the sheer size in relation to that of the body of the polar bear, which is in fact a fully grown male estimated at some fourteen hundred pounds.

See this amazing photo by clicking on the ‘Read More’ below.

polar-2

So our knowledge of this magnificent predator is advanced and perhaps it may be tiny piece of the jigsaw that will have to be assembled if we are to prevent the extinction of  the largest predator on earth.

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