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The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is a bear native largely within the Arctic circle encompassing the Arctic Ocean, its surrounding seas and surrounding land masses. It is the world’s largest land carnivore and also the largest bear, together with the omnivorous Kodiak bear, which is approximately the same size. An adult male weighs around 350–680 kg (770–1,500 lb), while an adult female is about half that size. Although it is closely related to the brown bear, it has evolved to occupy a narrow ecological niche, with many body characteristics adapted for cold temperatures, for moving across snow, ice, and open water, and for hunting the seals which make up most of its diet. Although most polar bears are born on land, it spends most of its time at sea, hence its scientific name meaning “maritime bear”, and can hunt consistently only from sea ice, spending much of the year on the frozen sea.
The polar bear is classified as a vulnerable species, with 8 of the 19 polar bear subpopulations in decline. For decades, unrestricted hunting raised international concern for the future of the species; populations have rebounded after controls and quotas began to take effect. For thousands of years, the polar bear has been a key figure in the material, spiritual, and cultural life of Arctic indigenous peoples, and the hunting of polar bears remains important in their cultures.
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