Why Do Polar Bears Stink?
Polar bears have an amazing sense of smell. It’s one of their most valuable tools for hunting prey, and they use it in ways that are surprising to the average person.
A polar bear’s nose is five times bigger than yours, and they have an olfactory bulb that sits in the middle of their forehead, behind their eyes. It’s also larger than a dog’s, and has more surface area to pick up scents.
They can detect odors as far away as 32 km (20 miles), which is extraordinary for a mammal’s sense of smell. The animals rely on their olfactory system to locate ringed seals, which they hunt in a variety of ways: breaking into pupping dens, waiting at breathing holes or at the water’s edge, or stalking seals that have hauled out to rest on the ice.
It’s not just for hunting; polar bears also use their sense of smell to track other animals in their area, including other bears, other mammals, birds and vegetation. This enables mama bears to keep close contact with their cubs, and it helps males to find females to mate with.
However, a new study suggests that climate change could be damaging to their ability to do both of these things. Because polar bears rely so heavily on their olfactory system for hunting, changes in wind speed may make it harder for them to pick up scented chemical trails left by other animals and land-based prey.
In the Arctic, where sea ice has been shrinking, polar bears are having trouble finding their prey. In fact, a recent study shows that they often travel cross-wind to find their scents. This movement isn’t common in mammals, but a team of researchers from the University of Alberta has discovered that it’s exactly what these bears do when they’re hunting.
During the winter, the researchers tracked polar bears’ movement over a period of six months. They found that when the weather was colder, the animals most often travelled cross-wind to detect odors, while in the summer when the temperatures were warmer, their movement was more geared towards downwind hunting.
The scientists who carried out the research believe that polar bears’ ability to travel across sea ice to detect odors is vital to their survival, as they need to be able to cover large areas of ice and track down their prey. As sea ice shrinks, the ability to do so could become even more difficult, which will be disastrous for bears.
A polar bear’s hearing is also extremely important for finding their prey, as they can hear seals up to 20 miles away. This makes them one of the best-equipped hunters in the animal kingdom.
They are incredibly intelligent and can learn how to communicate with other bears in their area. This is especially helpful when it’s mating season, which can be tricky for them.
If you’re in the Arctic, avoid using scented cosmetics or fragranced products like aftershave or perfume. These can attract a hungry bear’s attention and lead to a fight or a dangerous encounter.