© WWF / Jack Stein GROVE

Polar bear habitat

The polar bear's Latin name, Ursus maritimus, means 'sea bear - an apt name for this amazing species which spends much of its life in, around, or on the ocean.
Polar bears are found throughout the circumpolar Arctic. They're frequently seen along or near coasts and on islands, but they spend the majority of their lives on the sea ice.

Life on sea ice

Sea ice is vital to polar bears. It provides a platform for them to hunt, live, breed, and in some cases, create maternal dens.

But sea ice is more than a simple platform: it is an entire ecosystem inhabited by plankton and micro-organisms, which support a rich food chain that nourishes seals, that in turn become prey for polar bears.

It is the very foundation and defining characteristic of the Arctic marine ecosystem.

Life off the sea ice

As sea ice decreases at a rate of about 4.6% a decade, some polar bears at the southern edges of the species' range are spending five to six months on land, with very few seals to eat.
Without sea ice and seals, polar bears are left to search for other food sources. This can lead them into communities, where garbage dumps, sled dog yards and human food storage offer easy pickings. Bears in communities often create conflict between bears and people – bears threaten the safety of people and their property. Communities, government and WWF are working together to keep both bears and people safe.
	© Polar Bear Technical Committee / IUCN
Polar Bear population status as of 2014.
© Polar Bear Technical Committee / IUCN
Where polar bears are found, and their current status.
Learn more about the status of polar bears.

What's happening to sea ice?

As the climate warms, Arctic sea ice is disappearing. Almost every summer, the amount of remaining ice gets smaller. The oldest ice has essentially disappeared.
This time-lapse video from NASA shows how the extent of sea ice has changed since the 1980s.

	© naturepl.com / Steven Kazlowski / WWF
© naturepl.com / Steven Kazlowski / WWF

In pictures: Polar bear habitat

© Geoff York / WWF © Jon Aars / NPI © Viktor Nikiforov / WWF-Russia © Viktor Nikiforov / WWF-Russia © Gert Polet / WWF © Alexey Ebel / WWF


Stay informed with WWF's monthly Arctic newsletter.


And visit us on: Twitter | Youtube

Follow polar bears

Follow polar bears as they wander the fjords and ice of Svalbard, Norway, hunting for seals and raising their cubs. Each bear is fitted with a satellite collar, and their locations are updated regularly.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.

Enter Yes if you accept the terms and conditions