Inuit Elders refer to polar bears that spend significant amounts of time in the ocean as “water bears.” Polar bears are dependent on sea ice as a place to travel, hunt seals, find mates and breed, and raise their young. Though some bears do not eat very much during the summer months, females with young have to hunt to keep their growing cubs supplied with food. With the increasing loss of summer sea ice, polar bears are losing their traditional spring and summer hunting environments.
Hunters on land and sea
Polar bears are great travellers and frequently cross many of the Arctic’s islands in search of new hunting areas. Their main source of food while in or near the ocean is the ringed seal. While on land they may scavenge on dead muskoxen, eat vegetation or even hunt lemmings, small Arctic rodents.
Scientists have studied polar bear DNA and believe that they are the distant relatives of grizzly bears, the polar bear having evolved into its own species many years ago. Recently, however, several bears with characteristics of both grizzlies and polar bears have been spotted in the western Arctic. In at least one case, one “polar-griz” has been determined to be the descendent of a grizzly and polar bear that mated. This signifies the successful cross-breeding between two different species.