Polar Bears
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Over the past several decades a number of studies have documented significant reductions in sea-ice cover in parts of the Arctic, thinning of multi-year ice and seasonal ice, and changes in the dates of break-up and freeze-up of sea ice.  Polar bears are distributed throughout the ice-covered waters of the circumpolar Arctic with an estimated population of 20,000– 25,000 animals. They are fundamentally dependent upon sea ice as a platform for hunting seals, travelling, finding mates, and breeding. Therefore, changes in sea-ice cover and in the patterns of freeze-up and breakup could significantly influence the population ecology of polar bears.  Download press package here

 

Polar bears occur in 19 subpopulations and according to a 2009 review of the status of polar bears, one of the 19 subpopulations appears to be increasing, three are stable, and eight are declining. For the remaining seven subpopulations, there is insufficient or no data to provide an assessment of status and trends.  For six of the eight subpopulations in decline, harvesting appears to be the primary factor behind the decline although in some, climate-induced effects are also suspected to play a role.

 

However, on the whole, it must be stressed, that our knowledge of the status and trend of each subpopulation varies due to the availability, reliability, and age of data. Furthermore, for many subpopulations, there is limited or no data collected over a sufficient period of time to allow us to examine trends. Therefore a comprehensive assessment of polar bear populations as a whole is difficult.

 

However, if climate warming and the reduction of sea-ice in the Arctic continue as projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it will have profound negative effects on the ability of polar bear subpopulations to sustain themselves, particularly those at the southern parts of their range. Continued climate change will increase the vulnerability and risk to the welfare of all polar bears, and population and habitat modeling have projected substantial future declines in the distribution and abundance of polar bears. This is the single most critical conservation concern for polar bears.

 

Furthermore, pollutants that enter the Arctic via long-range transport on air and ocean currents, river systems, and runoff are also a cause for concern. The effects of pollutants on polar bears are largely unknown. However, recent studies suggest that pollutants impact the endocrine system, immune system, and subsequent reproductive success of polar bears.  Finally, reductions in sea ice extent, duration, and thickness will likely increase shipping activity and increase resource exploration, development, tourism and production in areas used by polar bears.

 

Over the past several decades a number of studies have documented significant reductions in sea-ice cover in parts of the Arctic, thinning of multi-year ice and seasonal ice, and changes in the dates of break-up and freeze-up of sea ice.Polar bears are distributed throughout the ice-covered waters of the circumpolar Arctic with an estimated population of 20,000– 25,000 animals. They are fundamentally dependent upon sea ice as a platform for hunting seals, travelling, finding mates, and breeding. Therefore, changes in sea-ice cover and in the patterns of freeze-up and breakup could significantly influence the population ecology of polar bears.Polar bears occur in 19 subpopulations and according to a 2009 review of the status of polar bears, one of the 19 subpopulations appears to be increasing, three are stable, and eight are declining. For the remaining seven subpopulations, there is insufficient or no data to provide an assessment of status and trends. For six of the eight subpopulations in decline, harvesting appears to be the primary factor behind the decline although in some, climate-induced effects are also suspected to play a role.

However, on the whole, it must be stressed, that our knowledge of the status and trend of each subpopulation varies due to the availability, reliability, and age of data. Furthermore, for many subpopulations, there is limited or no data collected over a sufficient period of time to allow us to examine trends. Therefore a comprehensive assessment of polar bear populations as a whole is difficult.However, if climate warming and the reduction of sea-ice in the Arctic continue as projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it will have profound negative effects on the ability of polar bear subpopulations to sustain themselves, particularly those at the southern parts of their range. Continued climate change will increase the vulnerability and risk to the welfare of all polar bears, and population and habitat modeling have projected substantial future declines in the distribution and abundance of polar bears. This is the single most critical conservation concern for polar bears. Furthermore, pollutants that enter the Arctic via long-range transport on air and ocean currents, river systems, and runoff are also a cause for concern.

 

The effects of pollutants on polar bears are largely unknown. However, recent studies suggest that pollutants impact the endocrine system, immune system, and subsequent reproductive success of polar bears. Finally, reductions in sea ice extent, duration, and thickness will likely increase shipping activity and increase resource exploration, development, tourism and production in areas used by polar bears.