What colour is a polar bear’s fur? White, right?
It is actually pigment-free and transparent. It’s the light that reflects off the fur that makes it appear white. Sometimes, before the moulting period, polar bears may look more dirty yellow than bright white, due to the oil from the seals they eat. In humid conditions, their coats may even have a green tint from harmless algae that grows underneath.
There are ways to restore polar bears’ fur to the snowy glory that gave them iconic status on packets of Fox’s Glacier Mints.
In 1979, the polar bears in San Diego zoo were treated with a salt solution to remove the algae from their fur. In 2004, Sheba the polar bear was treated at Singapore Zoo with a hydrogen peroxide solution to restore her natural fur coat. Sadly, the much-loved bear has now passed away, although her presence lives on, as her body has been preserved and is on show to the public visiting the zoo.
If a polar bear were to lose all of its hair, it would reveal that it actually has black skin, which acts as a heat insulator to the sun’s rays. There is a thick layer of fat underneath their skin, which could measure around 11.5cm, explaining why this mammal is so strong and sturdy.
On land, the polar bear’s fur coat prevents heat loss and it is known for some polar bears to overheat when they run. In water, it’s the fat that keeps them warm, as wet fur is not a good insulator.
A polar bear’s fur coat is ideal camouflage as it protects them from hunters as well as hiding from their prey. The mammals aren’t the biggest fans of swimming, though they tactically use water to source their prey. Polar bears show their intelligence as they strategically put their paws over their nose and mouth, making them invisible to the seals they’re stalking.
As enticingly cuddly as polar bears may seem, (one could not disagree with this cute video)
they are extremely dangerous and should never be approached. One episode of the BBC’s Frozen Planet series shows how the film crew have to have their wits about them at all times and are always advised to carry a pistol to scare off polar bears who come too close. As the warning goes: “It is not the bear you see that is going to get you.”
The BBC’s Frozen Planet also shows how a team of professionals handle a yearly polar bear health check. From a helicopter, they shoot the bears with a harmless dart to sedate them while they’re checked over. These health checks are used to monitor what is happening to the population of polar bears as a whole. The polar bear will be weighed to check it’s a sufficient weight for survival. If a female polar bear isn’t heavy enough, she is at risk as well as any underweight cubs, who will have extreme difficulty surviving their first year on earth.
Get fat to survive – if only human doctors told us the same.