September 19, 2013

I received this interesting question from two of the readers of this blog:

We have been reading about the Alaskan brown bear and polar bears.  Both claim to be the biggest bear. Could you answer this question? Which bear is bigger, the Alaskan brown bear or the polar bear? Thank you very much! You have a wonderful site and books! Thanks for doing what you do. We really do appreciate it very much!

Kaitlyn and Jacob, Minnesota

Dear Kaitlyn and Jacob,

  One of the things that I’ve learned over years of exploring and researching my books is that sometimes it is impossible to find the answer you are looking for until you figure out what is the right question! I’ve often started out researching a subject and as I learn along the way, I end up adjusting the question, sometimes more than once. 

This is one of those times, so let’s think about what you really want to know. What does "biggest" actually mean? Do you mean the heaviest? Or do you mean the longest?

As you found, the Alaskan, or Kodiak brown bear and the polar bear are the two largest members of the bear family. The Kodiak bear is the longest (or tallest), while the polar bear is the heaviest (on average). The Library of Congress website has this excellent chart which illustrates the differences between these two kinds of bear:


You can see why it is hard to say which is the "biggest" bear. But you can clearly distinguish between the heaviest and the longest/tallest.

Thanks for writing, and for giving me a chance to write about the importance of finding the right the question!

Posted by: Seymour Simon

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