Polar Bear Locomotion
Posted in CSR

Walking and resting

  • Most plantigrade (soles flat to the ground similar to humans) of all the Carnivora.
    • Dogs and cats are digitigrade (stand on toes with most of sole elevated).
    • Digitigrade animals tend to be faster than plantigrade animals partly because of a longer stride.
  • Top speed recorded: 11 m/sec (25 mph).
    • Top speed for digitigrade lion and wolf: 35-40 mi/hr.
    • Speed sacrificed in favor of tremendous strength/mobility of limb movement
  • Prefer lying down and still-hunting to chasing prey due to energy costs of running.
  • Move with ease and agility over rough terrain and jumbled ice floes.


  • Nearly all carnivores are excellent swimmers; polar bear has oarlike forepaws.
    • Forelimbs and large forepaws propel animal forward with a stroke like a dog swimming
    • Hind limbs trail behind serving as a rudder.
    • Head and shoulders held above water.
  • Swimming rate about 6.5 km/hr.
  • Able to swim up to 15 miles easily.
    • Adapted for swimming near-shore.
    • Some reports of longer swims in recent years.
      • DeMaster and Stirling (1981) – 40 mile swim across open water.
      • Longer swims, especially in open seas with waves can be dangerous
    • As ice packs melt, bears in some areas swim farther across open water
      • Researchers report a radio-collared female in the Beaufort Sea swam continuously for 687 km (427 miles) over 9 days and then swam and walked an additional 1,800 km (1,118 mi); she lost 22% of her body mass and her yearling cub (Durner et al. 2011)
    • Reports on the increase of bear drownings.

Source: San Diego Zoo wildlife Alliance Library

Manager’s Office Team

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