Brouhaha Over Polar Bear Hair

New Research over Polar Bear Hair

10-01-1998 // NWF Staff

For almost two decades, the idea has widely circulated that the transparent hair of polar bears captures and sends ultraviolet light to the animal´s black skin, helping to heat it. The fact that scientist David Lavigne of the University of Guelph in Canada debunked that notion in 1988 went virtually unnoticed by the popular press, even though other scientists have also pointed out its flaws in the years since.

Now physicist Daniel W. Koon of St. Lawrence University in New York is on a crusade to correct the myth. He has compiled vast records of how the media have perpetuated it, and he has conducted experiments proving that the keratin in polar bear hair absorbs light and the hair does not optically transmit the energy. Koon, who wrote an essay on the subject for New Scientist, also recently wrote a letter to National Wildlife to slap our wrist for a 1993 mention of the supposed phenomenon in our pages-- which he calls an "outrageous claim" and a "particularly amazing untruth." In light of Koon´s work, we are absorbing the scolding.

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