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He just wants to wake him up so he can ask for directions.


Well, I'm down in the bay with the Eskimos

With the polar bears and the Arctic snows

With a party of penguins who do not know

How I can get back to thee.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Supernaturally

The primary difference between the Arctic and the Antarctic is that one has polar bears and one has penguins - if you're lucky enough not to see them in the same place or one of them in the wrong place. Oh, and they're on opposite ends of the Earth, but who can remember which one is where? Certainly not Hollywood, which treats them as interchangeable lumps of ice to send doomed expeditions up. The (Ant)Arctic circle is full of snow, chasms, avalanches and those great big ice bridges that collapse just as the last person makes their way across. Cannibalism may be unavoidable. If one is lucky (or unlucky) you might find that weird hidden tropical valley filled with...interesting denizens.

In Christmas Specials, children's cartoons and comics, there will literally be a South or North Pole that looks just like the striped poles outside barbers' shops. Christmas Elves, reindeer and Santa Claus will no doubt be somewhere nearby, at least in the case of the North Pole. In these cases, the cannibalism rule can be waived, although, in a comedy, the word 'venison' is a guarantee.

For the record, the North Pole is a frozen sea and the South Pole is an actual frozen continent, but that doesn't come up much either. If it did, we might start wondering why Santa built his house not on a rock, but on a floating mass of ice.

Incidentally, the word 'Arctic' actually comes from the Greek word for bear, Arktos. This is in origin nothing to do with polar bears, but refers to the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (the great and the small bear, respectively), which are always in the north as seen from Greece. However, it makes for a convenient mnemonic - the Arctic is the land of the bears, the Antarctic is the land opposite the bears.

Of course, it's probably just easier to remember NORTH IS BEARS, SOUTH IS PENGUINS.[1]

Examples of Polar Bears and Penguins include:

  • Coca-Cola mostly averts this. In one, they lampshade it. It may be justified, if the bears were travelers.
  • Kid Cuisine, a brand of frozen TV dinners, has a penguin and a polar bear as their mascots. (Though they're apparently smart enough to buy clothes, so maybe one of them got a plane ticket and flew to the other one's place.)
  • In a Capital One advertisement, they supposedly can only afford to go to Antarctica, even though a plane trip to Antarctica would cost MUCH more than a trip to an equitorial region. The commercial ends with the father pointing out that it's walrus mating season with a herd of walruses appearing onscreen, even though it was clearly stated to be Antarctica.
  • A promo for Netflix included sample clips from nonexistent movies in various genres, including a "documentary" that apparently plays this trope straight.

Anime & Manga

  • Penguin Musume Heart's lead is Sakura "Penguin" Nankyoku. Her rival is "Polar Bear" Marie. Convenient.
  • In one episode in Lupin the Third, Lupin tries to bring polar bears to the South Pole and the penguins to the North. Just to find some hidden treasure.

Board Games


  • Elf, which portrays the North Pole as a magical land populated by clay-animation creatures and talking snowmen, supposedly would be able to get away with this. Instead, it averts it brilliantly by having polar bears and puffins instead, which are arctic animals.
  • In Flushed Away the Gum Commercial features Two Penguins and A Polar Bear.
  • Wonderfully averted in Happy Feet. Despite being a movie about adorable dancing emperor penguins, not a single polar bear can be seen.
    • Most recent penguin movies avert this trope; Surf's Up for example doesn't feature any mammal besides cetaceans and an otter.
  • Cool Runnings: "You mean winter, as in Eskimos and igloos and penguins and ICE?".
  • Batman Returns: The designers of the Gotham Zoo obviously swallowed this trope whole, since their aquatic exhibit features only penguins, yet is called Arctic World and is topped by a statue of a polar bear.
    • Except "arctic" (small "a") is also an adjective meaning "extremely cold", which is a valid description of both polar regions.
  • In Zombieland Tallahassee compares the rumors of which region of America is still zombie-free to penguins in the North Pole thinking that the South Pole would be warmer. Columbus immediately calls him out on his Critical Research Failure. His response?


  • Mr Poppers Penguins; of course there is a good reason for this happening
  • Terry Pratchett makes a joke of this (like everything else) in Discworld, describing in Thief of Time a south-drifting iceberg populated by polar bears and seals, seeking a better life in the southern hemisphere where the ice floes are lined with crunchy penguins. Too bad that darned Titanic was in the way...
    • Even better because in the UK Penguins are a brand of crunchy biscuit.
  • Older Than Radio: Wyss's Swiss Family Robinson was riddled with an impossible concentration of animals and plants on an island. Penguins arrived in numbers on an island that's so close to the equator that it never snows — although penguins aren't restricted to snowy or frigid climes by any means, the Galapagos Penguin is the only surviving species that lives in outright tropical climates.
  • There's a book about Santa Claus which actually subverts this- Santa's workshop has a penguin population nearby, but they're noted as emigrating from the South Pole somehow (maybe stowing away at Santa's vacation spot). This particular breed has developed a bowtie-like spot on their chests.
  • One of the charming Sharpe Miss Bianca books (not the Disney films) manages to invoke and invert this at the same time: The titular characters, while on a mission to Antarctica do run into polar bears, who admit that this isn't their home, they are on an exchange program with the Arctic Ocean.
  • Jez Alborough's delightful children's picture book Cuddly Dudley may not have any Polar Bears but it does manage to include an Eskimo - and even trees - in tne story of the titular penguin, who is just too cuddly for his own goon.
  • The fact that penguins and polar bears aren't found in the same place provides the vital clue in one Encyclopedia Brown mystery.

Newspaper Comics

  • The Far Side. Gary Larson drew a few strips featuring this trope for the same reason he did strips with humans and dinosaurs living together: Rule of Funny. A typical example has a group of penguins on a small ice floe commenting on the ongoing rash of mysterious disappearances, while a polar bear sits among them, wearing a fake beak as a disguise.
  • Garfield has frequently talked about going to the North Pole to eat penguins. Nermal once caught on to his mistake.

Video Games

  • The first Endless Ocean plays this to the hilt. Then again, about half the wildlife is misplaced anyway due to the Rule of Fun, so it's not quite as noticeable. Endless Ocean 2 averts the trope as part of getting the marine life to more reasonable locations, and even acknowledges the difference between diving in a frozen sea and next to a frozen continent.
  • The "Arctic" scenario from Repton Around the World.
  • Farmville's 2009 Christmas event introduced a lost penguin arriving on your farm to be adopted by neighbors. If you posted it to your Facebook page, the description would note that the penguin had walked all the way from the North pole. There's lost, and then there's lost.
  • This trope is avoided in one of the Magic School Bus computer games, The Magic School Bus: Animals. One of the minigames involves a penguin who got very, very lost and ended up at the North Pole rather than the South Pole (though one does have to think where the penguin even was to have to go back to the South Pole anyway...) You take control of the penguin and guide him across the world and back to the South Pole in Frogger-style levels.
  • One game for the iPad had you launch penguins across icy hills to escape a polar bear.


  • Tyler Martin's Wally and Osborne (originally titled On the Rocks) deliberately plays with this trope by placing Wally the polar bear in Antarctica, where he forms a Laurel and Hardy style partnership with Osborne the penguin. How Wally got to Antarctica or why is never explained, although Osborne once suggested that Wally might be (literally) bipolar.
  • There's also South Pole, with a penguin, a polar bear, and an arctic fox at the South Pole. The strip's subtitle is Strangers in Antarctica, so the author is apparently aware that one or two of these don't belong here. The reason was finally explained in strip 73.
  • Averted in The KAMics... well, except for that time when Drunk Aliens returned a penguin to the wrong hemisphere.
  • While there aren't any polar bears in Pokey the Penguin, there ARE a whole lot of penguins, and they all proudly live in the Arctic Circle.
  • During The Last Days of Foxhound, Liquid Snake wounds up in Alaska after using as Ejection Seat (from a helicopter). He incorrectly assumes that he's in the North Pole, and wonders why there aren't any penguins around. Then again, Liquid is an idiot.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • In the Christmas Special Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, the young Kris Kringle literally runs into a penguin who is lost trying to find the South Pole. Kringle makes a point of noting that pole is on the opposite end of the planet and "you're about as lost as you can get."
  • Walter Lantz's cartoon penguin Chilly Willy is often paired up with a polar bear.
  • A U.S. Acres segment on Garfield and Friends plays with this. When reading a book, Orson's imagination gets away with him so badly that it impacts what everyone else perceives in the world around him. As Orson pulls out a book on the frozen north, he wonders to himself if he'll read about penguins. At this point, a penguin toddles up to Wade, who decides to pet it. Orson then realizes that polar bears, not penguins, live in the frozen north, and then penguin transforms into a polar bear, which sends Wade into a panic.
  • Chilly Beach, which was clearly set somewhere in Northern Canada, had a recurring character who was a polar bear with an English accent. His sidekick was a penguin.
  • The Bugs Bunny cartoon "Frigid Hare" has him turning up at the South Pole, where a penguin is being pursued by an Eskimo.
  • Another Bugs Bunny cartoon, 8 Ball Bunny, has Bugs trying to return a lost penguin to the South Pole, only to get there and find out that this penguin is a native of Hoboken, New Jersey.
    • And yet another where Bugs takes a penguin to the Arctic. Only, after the journey, the penguin begins crying and puts up a sign saying, "Penguins are native to the Antarctic".
  • In one episode of Shaggy and Scooby Doo: Get a Clue! a penguin can be seen while the titular characters and their robot butler are in the Arctic.
  • In Adventure Time, the Ice King says that it is natural for polar bears to eat penguins.
  • Originally, The Rescuers was actually going to be about Bernard and Miss Bianca trying to save a polar bear from an evil penguin.

Real Life

  • Truth in Television: The word "penguin" originally designated a fish-eating, flightless, black and white dweller of the Northern Hemisphere: The Great Auk. It's been extinct since around 1850, though.
  • While polar bears themselves are absent from the southern hemisphere, some other Arctic species have been introduced there. One notable case is the reindeer, which occurs now in Sub-antartic islands, and they can be seen next to penguin colonies
  • An infamous French cartoon from around 1908 commented on the controversy over whether explorer Robert Peary had truly been the first man to reach the North Pole. He is shown surrounded by penguins.
  • A Soviet artist once drew a caricature about Eisenhower looking all over the Arctic for the Communist threat. Everyone laughed at him for making the trope mistake... until they learned Joseph Stalin approved of the picture
  • May or may not count, but many zoos have polar bears and penguins
  • It's not penguins and polar bears specifically, but there are certain animals that can be found both in the Arctic and Antarctic such as the Arctic Tern
  1. Unless you're talking about sports, in which case west is Bears and east is Penguins, although only if you're between 80 and 87 degrees West longitude.