Are Polar Bears Friendly? (Explained)

Polar bears are known for their adorable appearance, with their thick white coats of fur and black noses. But their social structure isn’t common knowledge.

Are polar bears social and friendly toward others, or do they tend to live solitary lives?

Polar bears are solitary creatures; their only social units are breeding pairs and mothers and cubs. Sometimes, polar bears play together or share food, but it’s more common to see these animals living on their own. Polar bears are not friendly to humans, either; as their natural habitat continues to shrink, attacks on humans are becoming more common.

This article will discuss polar bear social units, behavior in captivity, signs of friendliness and aggression, forms of communication, and violence between polar bears. It’ll also delve into polar bear-human relationships.

Are Polar Bears Solitary Or Social?

Whether bears are social or solitary creatures says a lot about their friendliness to each other.

Polar Bear Social Structure

Polar bears most often live on their own, and there are only two types of consistent social units that exist between them. One social unit is polar bear mothers with their cubs, and the other is breeding pairs. Aside from these two situations, polar bears are very solitary.

Mothers are extremely attentive to their young. They often groom and touch their cubs to show their affection.

Breeding pairs come together for at least a week and mate several times during that period.

There are some infrequent situations in which polar bears will join together to share an especially large whale carcass. Male polar bears will occasionally travel and feed together as well.

However, males don’t always get along; they tend to show aggression toward each other if one attempts to steal food. The breeding season is another source of contention between males, as they may fight over female polar bears.

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Social Behavior In Captivity

Although polar bears live on their own in the wild, they’re often forced to live with other polar bears in captivity. This study showed that polar bears manage this situation by avoiding conflict.

When one polar bear switched locations inside the enclosure, the other polar bear moved away to increase the distance between them.

The data found in this study suggested that the bears made behavioral decisions to manage their social distance and minimize aggression.

Bonds Between Mothers And Cubs

The relationship between mothers and cubs is the closest bond in the polar bear social structure.

Cubs are entirely dependent on their mothers when they’re born. They remain in the den throughout the winter and nurse frequently. Once springtime comes, the cubs leave the den and begin to explore.

At this time, the mother gets a chance to hunt after fasting during the winter.

The first two years of cubs’ lifespans are a period of significant learning and growth. Their mother spends lots of time teaching them how to hunt and develop survival skills that will ideally get them to adulthood.

Most polar bear cubs continue to live with their mothers for two and a half years. However, some cubs leave their mothers at the age of one and a half, and some wait until they are three and a half.

Mother polar bears produce litters of cubs every three years when food is readily available. When sustenance is less abundant, polar bears produce offspring less frequently, and litter sizes tend to be smaller.

Signs Of Friendliness Among Polar Bears

Although polar bears are largely solitary creatures, there are indications of friendliness between them at times.

One is nose-to-nose communication. Often, when one polar bear wants food from another, it will slowly approach them. Then, the bear will circle the food source, go over to the other bear, and touch noses with them.

This is a non-aggressive behavior that often leads to a shared meal.

Another sign of friendliness is a side-to-side head movement. When polar bears stand on their hind legs, let their front paws hang down, and move their heads in this way, it usually shows that they want to play. This is common among cubs, especially siblings.

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Forms Of Communication

Side-to-side head wagging and nose touches are two signs of affection, but there are other ways that polar bears communicate as well.

For example, chuffing is a sound that polar bears make when they feel stressed. Low growls are vocalizations that mother polar bears use to scold their cubs. Meanwhile, loud roars are signs of anger, and deep growls are a warning.

Polar bears can also communicate submission when faced with aggression. They do this by moving downwind of the dominant polar bear.

Indicators Of Aggression Among Polar Bears

Polar bears have a few clear ways of displaying their aggression.

When a polar bear is on the attack and ready to charge, it puts its head down and its ears back. A polar bear that feels threatened or angry will make a low growling sound as a warning. When it’s challenged by another bear, it will also snort and hiss.

Fights between polar bears may be playful; these most often happen between young polar bear siblings. Play fights teach them how to defend themselves.

Truly aggressive fights also take place. These most commonly occur when polar bears try to steal food that was caught by others, or between males during the breeding season.

Violence Between Males And Cubs

An often-shocking form of violence in polar bears is the cannibalization of cubs by adult males. This phenomenon has been studied for around 40 years.

When resources are scarce, usually in the late summer and fall, male polar bears sometimes resort to eating cubs.

Are Polar Bears Aggressive To Humans?

Although polar bears are perceived as cute and cuddly, they are not friendly to humans. They are wild animals and incredible hunters with predatory instincts.

Humans doing research on polar bears are always advised to keep a safe distance from them.

It’s important to note how strong and powerful polar bears are, as well as the damage and destruction they can cause if provoked. Their bite force is an impressive 1235 psi. (For context, a human’s bite force is around 160 psi.)

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Polar bears are known to hunt humans if and when they enter the polar bears’ territory. Considering polar bears can run 25 mph, similar to the speed of a galloping horse, it’s definitely not wise to get too close to them.

Unfortunately, polar bear attacks on humans are becoming more and more common and will likely continue to increase.

This is because the polar bear’s natural habitat is beginning to shrink as a result of climate change, making it much more challenging to find food.

Polar bears have thus begun to shift their habitat and live in land areas, which means they now come into contact with humans more often.

The types of polar bears most likely to attack humans include mothers with their cubs and subadults, which are polar bears that have been weaned but are not yet sexually mature. This age range can span from two and a half years old up to ten years old.

Mothers with cubs need to both feed themselves and provide for their cubs, which gives them a greater motivation to attack humans.

Subadults tend to be more inexperienced hunters and are more likely to attack humans than full-grown polar bears.

In general, though, it’s believed that polar bears only attack when they’re hungry, feeling threatened, or protecting their cubs.


Unlike many other mammals, polar bears are not social animals. In fact, their only consistent social units include mothers and cubs and breeding pairs.

In some cases, polar bears share food with each other and play together. However, this isn’t very common and mostly happens between cubs that are siblings.

Polar bears are not friendly to humans and may attack if they feel threatened, hungry, or protective over their cubs. As polar bears’ habitats continue to shrink, they move into areas where humans are present, and attacks on humans increase.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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