Why There Aren't Polar Bears in Antarctica, According to an Expert

Polar Bears International shares insight into polar bear geography and conservation.

Jamie Bichelman - Author
By

May 14 2024, Published 10:17 a.m. ET

A mother polar bear sits with her two polar bear cubs in the snow.
Source: iStock

You may be surprised to learn about some of the unexpected areas that polar bears call home, but it seems logical that a polar bear would settle in a frigid environment like Antarctica.

As climate changes threaten polar bears in heartbreaking and devastating ways, it bears repeating that their natural habitats and where they can be spotted are changing with the weather, putting obvious places like Antarctica in question.

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Therefore, we turned to the experts at Polar Bears International to learn more about the natural habitat of the polar bear. Keep reading below to find out if polar bears can be found in Antarctica and what other challenges polar bear populations face around the world.

A mother polar bear cuddles with her cub on the frozen Canadian tundra.
Source: iStock
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Are there polar bears in Antarctica?

Although polar bears live in the snowy, icy arctic regions, you will not find polar bears in Antarctica specifically, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

It's certainly a confusing and easy mistake to make, so we reached out to Alysa McCall, the Staff Scientist and Director of Conservation Outreach at Polar Bears International, for insight.

"Polar bears roam Arctic sea ice in search of their main prey, seals," McCall tells Green Lovers exclusively over email. "Canada, the U.S. (Alaska), Greenland, Norway, and Russia are all home to at least one polar bear population, but there are no polar bears found on the opposite end of the earth in Antarctica."

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A polar bear's habitat, according to Polar Bears International, is contingent upon suitable sea ice and available prey, as they don't have defined territories. Therefore, polar bears may stray in unexpected ways in search of hospitable areas.

While polar bears may roam hundreds of kilometers from home base, one tracked polar bear traveled nearly 5,000 kilometers in a roundabout trip between Alaska, Greenland, and Canada.

A polar bear is photographed half under the water and half exposed above the water, with snow-capped mountains behind it.
Source: iStock
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Where do polar bears live?

The five regions McCall mentioned — Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Norway, and Russia — are where you are most likely to find any of the 22,000 polar bears estimated to be left in the wild, according to the WWF. Per Live Science, evolution is likely to be the key to why most bears call the Northern Hemisphere their home.

Antarctica is the continent situated the furthest south, and according to Live Science, there was never a point in the polar bear's comparatively younger evolution at which the North and South Poles were connected. This would have allowed polar bears to more easily make their way to new regions.

Though researchers believe polar bears could flourish in such an area due to an abundance of prey, it could also lead to what Live Science calls "ecological collapse."

Ultimately, polar bear conservation efforts are critical to their continued existence, and greener energy methods must be prioritized.

"The key to conserving sea ice for polar bears and getting the climate back to functioning the way it should is to move away from using fossil fuels for energy," McCall tells Green Lovers. "We need to shift our energy to cleaner sources like wind, solar, or water, and vote for leaders who prioritize protecting our future."

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