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Can Polar Bears Smell Well?

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Polar bears, in all their snow-white grandeur, possess a keen sense of smell that helps them navigate through their arctic habitats. These giants can weigh anywhere from 330 to 1,500 massive pounds. They require large amounts of food in their diet, and their sense of smell is key for helping them to fulfill their appetites.

Detecting Food

When Miss Polar Bear feels hungry, she relies on her sense of smell to guide the way and lead her to a feast -- after, of course, she catches it. Her sense of smell allows her to sense prey from up to 20 miles away. Remarkably, even thick snow and ice doesn't stop the polar bear's "smell radar" from spanning the distance. As she navigates through her arctic home, she will sniff with every step, remaining on constant alert for prospective prey.

Detecting Other Polar Bears

Their amazing sense of smell isn't merely used for finding their way to prey. It's also used for locating other polar bears in the area. A mama bear's sense of smell helps her to keep close contact with her cubs. Mama bear probably won't be searching out Papa Bear, though, as male polar bears tend to be more introverted and don't help out when it comes to rearing his offspring. However, a polar bear's sense of smell will come in handy when it's mating time.

Sensing and Stalking

Once Miss Polar Bear locates her prey, capturing her feast doesn't always come easily. Sometimes polar bears have to practice their patience and wait for many hours on end before actually spotting a seal. Nevertheless, the hungry polar bear will patiently wait until a seal comes up for air to its blow hole, also known as its "atluk." The polar bear's coat blends in quite flawlessly with the white blanket of snow, leaving the seal at a disadvantage when coming up for air or climbing through the atluk for a rest.

Polar Bear and You

If you ever find yourself camping or hiking in an area polar bears happen to call home, it's important to keep their acute sense of smell in mind. Avoid going near the carcasses of dead animals, as these smells strongly attract the ever-hungry polar bear. Avoid carrying food or bringing it with you when you camp or hike. A hungry bear of any kind can sense the smell and may want to get his paws on it.