~ The Polar Bear and The Walrus ~

Polar Bears

(Ursus Maritimus)
Family: Ursidae
          Alaska is home to the ferocious polar bear and the gregarious walrus. Polar bears live only at the very most northern tip of Alaska where they can remain next to the ice flows of the arctic. Unlike other bears, polar bears do not hibernate. How do they keep warm in this frigid arctic environment?

          Polar Bears have fur that is different from any other animal. Close to their body they have a thick layer of woolly fur to keep them warm, but they also have long hollow guard hairs that stick up at all times. They look like plastic straws and keep the bear's hair from matting down while swimming in the cold arctic water. If you have ever been to a zoo located in a warm climate, you may have noticed that the polar bears fur appears to have a greenish cast to it. This happens because in warmer climates algae actually grows inside the polar bear's hollow guard hairs, giving the fur a greenish tint. (Matt also says to mention that these same hairs are prized for tying flies!) The white appearance of the polar bear's fur helps to camouflage it while hunting for its prey, which is mainly ringed and bearded seals, but they will also eat walrus, eggs, and beach cast carrion. Their prominent black nose can be seen from six miles away through binoculars on a clear day in the arctic, and it is said that they have been seen covering up their black noses while stalking prey. White may be great for camouflage, but black helps to absorb heat, and so underneath that fur the polar bear actually has black skin. The black skin absorbs the heat from the sun and helps him to stay warm.

          Polar bears are great swimmers and will swim from ice flow to ice flow at a cruising speed of about 6 miles per hour. They have been seen swimming 50 miles away from any ice or land. A thick layer of blubber helps to insulate the polar bear and keep him warm.


Question...

          If a polar bear swims at an average speed of six miles per hour, and he is seen 45 miles away from any land or ice, how many hours would he have been in the cold water before he was able to reach land or ice again?

          The current polar bear population in Alaska is healthy and on the increase since the 1960-70s. According to a 1986 estimate, there are around 3000-5000 polar bears in Alaska. Sport hunting of the polar is banned, and Alaskan Natives take approximately 130 polar bears per year for subsistence use (hide, meat and handicraft).

Blubber Mitten Activity

To find out what it's like to have a layer of blubber to keep warm, try this easy Blubber Mitten experiment. you'll need:

Fill one of the zipper bags about 1/3 full of shortening, then turn the remaining zipper bag inside out. Place it carefully inside the bag with the shortening so that you are able to zip the one bag to the other. This creates a "blubber mitten" for you to put your hand in.

Put your bare hand in the bowl of cold water and see just how cold it is!

Next, place your hand in the "blubber mitten" and now place your mittened hand in the ice water. How cold does the water seem with the "blubber mitten" on? Do you think a nice layer of blubber would be great protection against cold? Walrus, whales, and seals also have wonderful layers of blubber which help to keep them warm.


Walrus

          The Walrus is probably best known for his large tusks. At one time they were hunted for their tusks which were carved into beautiful pieces of ivory art. Now only Natives are allowed to hunt and carve walrus ivory. Both the male and female walrus have tusks, which they use mainly to haul themselves up out of the water and onto the ice. It takes a lot to move all that blubber around! They also use them for defense and fighting.

          Check out the "Animals of the Arcitc" Walrus page for more walrus information and a great eskimo walrus hunt story.
        Ivory Carvings


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