Friday, February 24, 2012

Polar Bears and Penguins Together in Chattanooga Soon

International Polar Bear Day is February 27th, a day when these amazing marine mammals are celebrated to raise awareness about how their Arctic home is changing.

 Although most people assume both polar regions are the same, the Arctic is a very different place than the Antarctic. Here are some quick points to help everyone separate the two:
The Arctic:
  • Think North Pole 
  • Arctic Ocean is ringed by land masses
  • Home to Polar Bears
The Antarctic:
  • Think South Pole
  • Southern Ocean completely surrounds the continent of Antarctica
  • Home to Penguins
Polar bears inhabit five different nations: the United States (Alaska), Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway. All 17 species of penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere.

So polar bears and penguins aren't found together in nature. It's understandable that many people think the two species live in the same regions. There have been plenty of cartoons, movies and commercials that have fed this belief for a long time. Most recently a Coca-Cola commercial showed penguins with polar bears. Cute spot, but it adds to the confusion that these creatures are neighbors.
Tennessee Aquarium visitors will have the opportunity to take a virtual trip from Pole to Pole beginning April 20th. They will be able to come face to face with gentoo and macaroni penguins at the Aquarium. By that time both species will have nests built and could possibly even have a few eggs. The penguins will receive the 'magic rocks' needed to build nests at the end of March.
Then visitors can head over to the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater to see "To The Arctic 3D." This film is a spectacular giant screen adventure that follows a mother polar bear and her two cubs. Audiences will also be thrilled with amazing scenes of walruses, herds of caribou, the Greenland ice shark and even colorful corals beneath the Arctic ice.

It will be an exciting spring in Chattanooga as the nights in the Antarctic get longer while the "Midnight Sun" returns to the Arctic.

Polar Bear Fun Facts:

- The polar bear is a marine mammal. Its scientific name is Ursus maritimus, meaning “sea bear.” It is also the world’s largest land-based carnivore.

- Polar bears are so well adapted that they are more likely to overheat than to suffer from cold. They have two layers of insulating fur, and their small ears and tails help prevent heat loss.

- They are strong swimmers and have blubber up to 4 inches thick, for buoyancy as well as warmth. Their large feet act as paddles and also help spread their weight for walking on ice.

- They have curved, non-retractable claws, and bumps on the pads of their feet called papillae so they don’t slip while walking or running on ice. The claws also help hold on to prey.

- Adult males can grow to 10 feet long and 1,500 lbs. During breeding season, they fight fiercely for a mate. Females are much smaller, reaching 8 feet and 550 lbs.

- You can sometimes tell male polar bears from female by the hair on the males’ front legs. Once mature, males tend to have much longer hair on their forelimbs.

- Females usually bear two cubs. Single cubs and triplets also occur depending on the health and condition of the mother. Cubs stay with their moms for up to 2.5 years.

- Polar bears are born blind and toothless in a den built by their mother. They spend a few months in the den, growing rapidly from their mother’s rich milk.

- A mother polar bear stays with her cubs for about 2.5 years. After they leave the den, the protective mom leads them to the sea ice to teach them how to hunt and survive.

- Adult polar bears are, for the most part, solitary animals. They have large home ranges, or territories. When they do gather, there is a distinct social order dictated by size and age.
- Polar bears walk at about three to four miles per hour. Females with small cubs slow their speed to one and a half to 2 and a half miles per hour.

- Polar bears expend more than twice the energy of most other mammals when walking or running—probably because their bodies are so bulky.

- Polar bears can run as fast as 25 miles per hour—but only for short distances. Younger, leaner bears are the best runners. They can cover two kilometers without stopping. Older, larger bears quickly overheat.

- Polar bears have been clocked swimming as fast as 6 miles per hour. The longest documented single swim by a polar bear was 426 miles. The trip took nine days through waters that were 2-6 degrees Celsius!

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