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Myth Busters

It's important to separate fact from fiction.

Our experts often hear people discuss widely believed myths surrounding polar bears and sea ice. We’ve mapped out a few of them to set the record straight—myth-buster style!

Myth: A polar bear covers its nose

Dr. Ian Stirling and several assistants used telescopes to watch undisturbed polar bears hunting seals in the Canadian High Arctic—24 hours a day when conditions permitted, for several weeks each year, over several years.

They documented details on many hundreds of hunts, and no bear was ever seen putting a paw over its nose while stalking a seal. Nor, to our knowledge, have other polar bear biologists ever observed this behavior. Imagine just how a bear might walk, crawl, or stalk on three legs while holding its paw over its nose for an extended period, since most hunts on the sea ice cover between 50 to 200 meters (165 - 656 feet).

Myth: Polar bears are “left pawed”

There is no evidence to support the notion that all great white bears are left pawed. Scientists observing the animals haven't noticed a preference. In fact, polar bears seem to use their right and left paws equally.

Myth: Polar bears use tools

Polar bears do not appear to use tools, including blocks of ice, to kill their prey. Scientist Ian Stirling believes that this myth came about after observers noted that, after failing to catch a seal, a frustrated polar bear may kick the snow, slap the ground or hurl chunks of ice.

Myth: A polar bear’s hollow hair conducts UV light

A polar bear's hollow hairs do not conduct ultraviolet light to its black skin. This theory was tested—and disproved—by physicist Daniel Koon.

Myth: Orcas prey upon polar bears

Scientist Ian Stirling concedes that, while an orca might have an opportunity 
to attack a bear stranded on a remnant of ice or while swimming in open water, it's extremely unlikely. To date, there are no reported or documented cases of such predation or attempts.

However, as Arctic sea ice continues to recede, reports of orcas using waters in the Far North are growing, suggesting a range expansion 
is in progress for some regions like Hudson Bay.

Myth: Polar bears live in both the North and South Poles

Polar bears live only in Arctic areas in the northern hemisphere—not in Antarctica, which is in the southern hemisphere. People often see illustrations of penguins and polar bears together, but this could never actually happen in the wild. In fact,

Bear Tracker

Watch polar bears as they travel across the sea ice to hunt seals.

Check out Bear Tracker

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Polar Bear FAQ

We answer the most frequently asked polar bear questions.

Go to FAQ

Climate Change

A threat to polar bears and the sea ice they depend on.

Learn More

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