Polar Bear's Status
About the Polar Bear
Polar Bear Cubs
Polar Bear I.Q.
Polar Bear Fur
The Sea Bear
Adaptions to Cold
Polar Bear Prey
Bears in Motion
Inuit & Polar Bears
Polar Bears in Zoos
Myths & Misconceptions
Name That Bear!
Walking and Running
Polar Bear Evolution
US Fish & Wildlife Report on Polar
Prepared in 1995, this report presents a thorough description of what
is known about polar bear populations.
Polar Bear Status Report
Polar bears are a potentially threatened species that live in the circumpolar north. They are
animals that know no boundaries. They pad across the ice from Russia to Alaska,
from Canada to Greenland and on over to Norway's Svalbard archipelago. Biologists
estimate their population at 22,000 to 27,000 bears, of which around 15,000 are
in Canada. In 1973, the five nations with polar bear populations (Canada, Denmark,
which governed Greenland, Norway, the U.S., and the former U.S.S.R.) entered into
the International Agreement for the Conservation of Polar Bears. Here is what
they encounter in each nation:
In Norway, polar bears are completely protected and have been since 1973. On the glacial Svalbard islands, their population has rebounded from a low of about 1,000 to roughly 2,000 bears. Scientists are worried, however, about the effects of pollution on the bears. PCB levels in the polar bears of Norway and western Russia are two-and-a-half to seventeen times higher than those in North American populations.
In Canada, Hudson Bay's ice melts about three weeks earlier each spring than it did just 25 years ago, which has greatly shortened the time that the bears can hunt for food. (Polar bears need a platform of ice from which to hunt seals.) Canadian scientists have observed that today's polar bears are smaller in stature, weigh less, and have fewer cubs. The bears in certain areas of Canada have excessive levels of PCBs and other contaminants. In Canada, native hunting is allowed under the provision of the International Agreement. Each community is given a quota, and natives are permitted to sell their right to hunt a bear to non-natives. Roughly 500 bears are harvested each year.
In Alaska, about 100 polar bears are harvested every year by natives under the subsistence provision of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The only restriction in place is that if they kill a bear, the carcass must be used in some way. Natives are not allowed to sell the skins, but may make and sell products from them.
In Greenland, which is governed by Denmark, natives may hunt polar bears but are forbidden from selling any bear parts. Roughly 100 bears are harvested each year.
Russia's polar bears face an uncertain future. Russian natives were recently granted the right to hunt, which worries Russian scientists because the breakdown of law and order and the collapse of the Russian economy has led to widespread poaching problems. They worry that legal hunting will encourage further poaching. In addition, polar bears in western Russia are exposed to dangerously high levels of pollutants.