Polar bear water fight

By Alex Potter

The game where your competitor is an 800kg bear!

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Polar bears are not only unique for their famous white fur (which is actually translucent), their paws perfectly built to grip ice and keep the bear from slipping, or their ability to smell a seal's breathing hole in the ice more than half a mile away. They are also the only bear species to be officially classified as marine mammals. Due to their dependence on the ocean for food and habitat, polar bears spend most of their lives on the sea ice, rather than on land.

Being so adept in the water, polar bears can swim continuously for days at a time. Findings published in the journal Polar Biology from the U.S. Geological Survey reveal that one polar bear fitted with an electronic tracking device was measured swimming nonstop for 232 hours across 687km, through waters that were 2-6C. That’s the equivalent of swimming for nine and a half days straight!

polar bear swimming
Polar bears are so reliant on the ocean that they are classed as marine mammales. © Chadden Hunter | © BBC NHU

Not only is the sea a life source for polar bears, it’s also a great place for keeping clean (polar bears love to be clean) and for play, as these two young polar bears show us.

For these youngsters, playing in the water is not only fun, but also an opportunity to build up their agility, speed and defence skills in the ocean. With only 10% of polar bear hunts ending in success, practicing their skills is always a useful activity.

polar bears playing
Play fighting is a way for polar bears to practise vital survival skills.

The primary hunting method for polar bears involves sniffing out the scent of a seal’s breathing hole - which they can detect from up to 20 miles away on the ice or up to half a mile away if the seal is in or under the ice - quietly waiting on the ice nearby and then grabbing them as a they come up for a breath. With the seal able to make a quick getaway in the water, having their own well-practiced skills can help these polar bears be in the successful 10% for their next meal.