King of the Arctic

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The polar bear is a remarkable animal to behold—a creature of fascinating design that demonstrates the intelligence of its Creator.

On the front of the Canadian two-dollar coin is the image of an animal that symbolizes dominance and power in the far northern regions of the planet. Ursus maritimus, the polar bear, a creature of rare beauty, is particularly suited for the brutally harsh environment of the northern arctic zone.

This great bear is the largest living land carnivore on the planet, the average male weighing 1,200 pounds (545 kilograms) with a record of 2,209 pounds (1004 kilograms), according to Polar Bear International. While it may look adorable and cuddly, it is, in fact, one of the most dangerous and ferocious animals on earth.

If one set out to custom-design a carnivorous predator for the high arctic, one could do no better than Ursus maritimus. In a treeless barren land covered with ice and snow and bordered by the freezing brine of the Arctic Ocean, the polar bear has flourished for thousands of years in temperatures averaging -30° F (-22° C) in the winter.

What characteristics are built into this majestic animal’s design that enable it to survive in a region that would quickly freeze the life out of most species? Here are just a few.

Blubber: The polar bear has a thick, insulating layer of blubber (a type of oily fat between the skin and muscles of marine mammals). This layer, not found in other bears, is four to five inches thick, and insulates the muscles and organs from the bitter cold of freezing air or sea water. This insulation can keep the animal warm even while swimming for many hours in the freezing waters of the Arctic Ocean—rather essential for an animal that considers seals to be haute cuisine. Without the genetics to develop this blubber layer, the polar bear would not survive.

Black Skin: While most people consider the polar bear to be white, its skin is, in fact, black. Black surfaces absorb rather than reflect light energy. The clear outer fur allows light and the infrared energy of the sun to penetrate through to warm the skin and, thus, the blood flowing near the skin, which then flows deeper into the body. Once the heat is transferred into the body, the blubber holds most of it there. The black skin is seen only around the eyes, ears and the characteristic black nose. An interesting side note is that the bear seems to be aware of its black nose, for when one is waiting for prey it will often place a paw over its nose, thus not betraying its position.

High-Tech Fur: The fur of a polar bear appears white or off-white and keeps cold out and warmth in. Exactly how it does this, however, is of great interest to researchers. It has been found that the coat is much more than camouflage. The coat is made of two distinct layers: a short, very dense layer next to the skin, and an outer layer of longer guard hairs. The outer hairs are actually transparent and clear—not white. Because they scatter or reflect the full visible spectrum, the bear appears white to the viewer, enabling it to almost disappear from view against a snow-covered background.

However, these high-tech hairs serve an additional function. Recent research has revealed that these guard hairs also work to absorb heat energy radiating from the bear’s body. The clear hollow hairs absorb outgoing infrared energy, directing it back to the bear’s body. This ability to absorb radiation is especially high at the specific part of the infrared spectrum where mammals tend to radiate heat most strongly (“Fur Absorbs Infrared Radiation,” Ask Nature, June 2017). This explains the ability of polar bears to be invisible to infrared sensors when the temperature of the surface of their coat matches the temperature of the ice and snow around them. This amazing design feature almost completely eliminates radiation heat loss from this mammal in its cold environment. Thus the polar bear combines the efficient insulation of blubber with an infrared-absorption system, making it nearly immune to cold. So efficient is this heat-retention system that the bear’s biggest problem is overheating when walking or running. It will often dive into freezing water to cool off, even in winter, if it has been active.

Endurance: One of the features of this great bear is its remarkable endurance and strength. It is by far the strongest of the bear family. Nothing demonstrates this more than its ability to swim extremely long distances in freezing water.

In July 2011, National Geographic reported that a female polar bear, which had been earlier outfitted with a radio collar, made an epic swim of 426 miles (687 kilometers) in the Beaufort Sea over a nine-day period (the average swim is between 30 and 60 miles, or 48 to 96 km). Swimming enables it to hunt for its primary dietary staple, the ringed seal. It travels great distances on land to reach open water, and then swims to open sea ice where it waits by the breathing holes of seals for hours at a time. One slap of a paw can flip a 150-pound (70-kilogram) ringed seal out of the water onto the ice. At other times it charges its prey, moving at speeds up to 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour).

Sense of Smell: The polar bear is designed with one of the most sensitive noses in the animal kingdom. In November 2014, LiveScience reported on research that suggests a polar bear can catch the scent of a seal on the ice from up to 20 miles (32 kilometers) away.

Socks: One can add to these features the fact that the bear comes with a set of built-in socks, composed of very coarse fur covering much of the bottom of the feet, which provides excellent traction on the ice.

These are only a few of the amazing features built into the genetics of a creature designed to live and thrive in an icy land. It is also among the most adaptable animals on the planet, having survived numerous fluctuations in temperature and arctic sea ice.

In the past few years, many have predicted that climate change will drive the white bear to extinction as sea ice retreats, but field research supports a very different conclusion. As recently as February 27, 2017, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) called for a reassessment of the bear’s endangered status.

Canadian wildlife expert Dr. Susan Crockford documents the latest findings on bear numbers, which grew from 22,500 in 2005 to about 30,000 only twelve years later. The bears are thriving, despite shrinking summer sea ice. Dr. Crockford’s report concluded that “loss of summer sea ice, regardless of cause, is not a major threat to bear survival” (GWPF TV, “Polar Bear Scare Unmasked: The Saga of a Toppled Global Warming Icon”).

Apparently, this remarkable animal was also designed to survive the periodic gyrations in the extent of arctic sea ice.

When one studies the polar bear, one can only be amazed at the complexity of this creature, and of the myriad of specialized parts that work together to ensure its survival. It is hard not to conclude that this bear is a product of deliberate design, at the hand of a Being of astounding capacity. The ancient patriarch Job had similar evidence in mind when he declared, “But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you; and the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you; and the fish of the sea will explain to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?” (Job 12:7–10).


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