Polar Bears & Conservation
   Climate Change
   Drilling and Mining
   Other Human Interactions
About the Polar Bear
   Polar Bear Cubs
   Polar Bear I.Q.
   Polar Bear Fur
   The Sea Bear
More Facts
   Adaptions to Cold
   Polar Bear Prey
   Home Range
Bears in Motion
Inuit & Polar Bears
Bear Attacks
Polar Bears in Zoos
Myths & Misconceptions
Hunting Seals
Hibernation Facts
Bathing Habits
Sleepy Bears
Name That Bear!
Walking and Running
Feasting Bears
Polar Bear Evolution

US Fish & Wildlife Report on Polar Bears.

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 (not endangered) species living in the circumpolar north. They are animals which know no boundaries. They pad across the ice from Russia to Alaska, from Canada to Greenland and onto Norway's Svalbard archipelago. No adequate census exists on which to base a worldwide population estimate, but biologists use a working figure of perhaps 22,000 to 25,000 bears with about sixty percent of those living in Canada.

In most sections of the Arctic where estimates are available, polar bear populations are thought to be stable at present. Counts have been decreasing in Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait, where about 3,600 bears are thought to live, but are increasing in the Beaufort Sea, where there are around 3,000 bears.

In the 1960s and 1970s, polar bears were under such severe survival pressure that a landmark international accord was reached, despite the tensions and suspicions of the Cold War. The International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears was signed in Oslo, November 15, 1973 by the five nations with polar bear populations (Canada, Denmark which governed Greenland at that time, Norway, the U.S., and the former U.S.S.R.).

The polar bear nations agreed to prohibit random, unregulated sport hunting of polar bears and to outlaw hunting the bears from aircraft and icebreakers as had been common practice. The agreement also obliges each nation to protect polar bear denning areas and migration patterns and to conduct research relating to the conservation and management of polar bears. Finally, the nations must share their polar bear research findings with each other. Member scientists of the Polar Bear Specialist Group meet every three to four years under the auspices of the IUCN World Conservation Union to coordinate their research on polar bears throughout the Arctic.

With the agreement in force, polar bear populations slowly recovered. The Oslo agreement is one of the first and most successful international conservation measures enacted in the 21st century.

Conservation Issues
Affecting Polar Bears

Long ago, biologist Barry Commoner provided an environmental catechism worth considering: “Everything is connected to everything else.” Damage done to the arctic ecology puts polar bears at risk, but because everything is connected, the quality of human life could be at risk as well. Ultimately, you survive only because the world's ecosystem survives.

Think of polar bears as an early warning system. If polar bears are poisoned by pollutants in the air or water, if they are over-hunted or pressured by interactions with humans, if their environment is altered by climate change or disturbed by mining and drilling operations, then you and yours may not be safe either.

The polar bear is impacted by the following conservation issues (each separately discussed under its own heading):

  • Climate Change
  • Pollution
  • Drilling and Mining
  • Fishing and Hunting
  • Other Human Interactions

More Information

  • Population Status Review with map and survey data compiled from the 2001 meeting of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group. http://pbsg.npolar.no/pop-maps.htm

  • “What has been happening to polar bears in recent decades?” by NOAA Arctic Theme Page. http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/essay_schliebe.html

  • USGS ANWR denning maps http://www.absc.usgs.gov/research/programs/mammals.htm/polar

  • International Association for Bear Research and Management: http://bearbiology.org

  • Protecting polar bears in Canada, The Manitoba Polar Bear Protection Act.

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