Many people think that grizzlies are the world’s largest carnivore, but that title actually goes to the polar bear, for two reasons: 1) they are bigger than grizzlies; 2) grizzlies aren’t strict carnivores like polar bears are. Other differences are attributable to the fact that polar bears live nearly their entire lives on sea ice. They have waterproof guard hair to keep them warm and dry when they’re swimming, and fur covers the bottoms of their feet. Another key difference is that, unlike their close cousins, the grizzly bears, polar bears are the only members of the bear family that have been known to stalk humans. They are dangerous animals, and should only be viewed with an experienced guide.

Where to find them

Polar bears are most abundant near coastlines and toward the southern edge of the ice pack in polar regions. In Alaska, they can be found in the Far North and Western Arctic areas, usually on the frozen sea, but sometimes on land near towns like Barrow and Kotzebue. Polar bears don’t tolerate temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit because of their thick coats and metabolisms, so they prefer to stay near cold ocean waters and ice.

When to come

Polar bears can be seen in Alaska usually in fall and spring during guided wildlife tours available on land in Barrow or by air with several flightseeing operations available from Anchorage, Fairbanks and other towns. They are occasionally seen in summer, too, but less frequently. Although polar bears don’t go into a full hibernation, like brown and black bears, they are scarcely seen in the dead of winter. Pregnant females are the only polar bears that will fully hibernate during the winter.