More than any other creature, the world’s largest land carnivore has come to symbolize the wild, rugged character of Nunavut. What may seem puzzling, however, is why the polar bear (nanuq) is considered a marine mammal at all. The reason is simple: polar bears, which are extraordinarily adapted for frigid arctic waters and are excellent swimmers, spend most of their lives on the sea ice and in the water. These abilities and adaptations allow the polar bear to successfully hunt and kill the staple of its diet, the ringed seal, which it hunts at breathing holes, at the floe edge, along cracks in the ice, and at polynyas.
The polar bears of Nunavut tend to be solitary creatures, generally travelling alone in winter. If you see more than one bear together, it is probably a mother and her cub or cubs. Cubs stay with their mothers for the first two or three years of life.
When the seemingly impenetrable shell of ice finally breaks up across Nunavut, polar bears are forced to concentrate somewhat in fiords and bays, where ice usually lasts longer. When this ice finally melts, the bears have few dietary options other than vegetation, small animals, and dead material that has been washed ashore.
Polar bears are found throughout Nunavut, but they are especially common throughout Barrow Strait and Lancaster Sound, along the east and southeast coasts of Baffin Island, and north throughout Jones Sound.
*Reproduced from an article titled “Marine Mammals” by Mike Vlessides contained in the Nunavut Handbook.
Legend of the Dancing Bears:
The Inuit believe that after death they return as an animal …. thus continuing the chain of life. The Bear represents the “king” of the Arctic animal kingdom so to return as a polar bear is the most favored choice. Returning as a polar bear the Inuk is happy so dances to show pleasure and joy … this is the legend of the dancing bear!
Winter Bear vs Summer Bear:
Why are some Polar Bears carved looking lean while others are fat? The distinct difference is defined by the time of year the artist wants to depict. Lean Bears are summer/early fall bears. The food supply is sparse once the ice flows have melted and access to seals is limited. Once the winter sets in ample food is available and the bears fatten up.
The Bear is probably the most revered animal for the Inuit. The Inuit sculptors love to carve their favorite animal in all sorts of poses. Look for movement and grace in the standing or walking bear – this is the most commonly carved theme. Many other poses capture the spirit of the bear as they go about their days in the Arctic summer months feeding their young and building up fat for the winter. Look for unusual poses, sitting, laying, sleeping – the Inuit sculptor is creative and fun loving.
BEAR FACTS: “From PolarBearsAlive.org”
Polar bears are a potentially threatened species that live in the circumpolar north. They are animals that know no boundaries. They pad across the ice from Russia to Alaska, from Canada to Greenland and on over to Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Biologists estimate their population at 22,000 to 27,000 bears, of which around 15,000 are in Canada.
Adult male polar bears weigh from 775 to more than 1,500 pounds. Females are considerably smaller, normally weighing 330 to 550 pounds.
Polar bears walk, at an average speed of five to six kilometers per hour, more often than they run. Females with small cubs slow their speed to two and a half to four kilometers per hour.
Polar bears rarely charge after snow geese when walking through a colony. Canadian scientist Nick Lunn believes that the numbers show why: for a dash lasting longer than 12 seconds, the calories spent on the chase would exceed those gained by a catch.
Polar bears can run as fast as 40 kilometers per hour, but only for short distances. They are so well padded with fat that they quickly overheat, even in cold weather.
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