Polar bears creaking under the strain



Posted on 12 January 2009  | 
Threatened polar bear mother and cubs in Hudson Bay.
© WWF-Canada / Peter EwinsEnlarge
Toronto, Canada - Eight of the 13 Canadian polar bear sub-populations are either depleted or showing significant signs of stress, and future reduction of sea-ice in the Arctic could result in a loss of two-thirds of the world's polar bears within 50 years.

These facts form the backdrop to Friday’s federal Environment Minister’s National Roundtable on Polar Bears which presents a critical opportunity to ensure that Canada implements strong new measures to protect polar bears for their long-term survival.

Roughly 15,000 (two-thirds) of the world’s 20-25,000 polar bears live in Canada and face four main threats: climate change, which is reducing their sea-ice habitat; over-hunting; increasing industrialisation of critical habitats; and toxic chemicals in the Arctic food chain.

Of the eight sub-populations showing clear signs of ecological problems, five have declining numbers (western Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, Kane Basin, Norwegian Bay, and southern Beaufort Sea), and a sixth (southern Hudson Bay) is showing clear biological signs of stress.

Two sub-populations in the central Arctic are increasing (McClintock Channel and Viscount Melville Sound) due to the cessation of past over-hunting, but are still below historic levels.

The Davis Strait sub-population may be increasing, possibly due to increased harp seal numbers. The remaining four sub-populations probably have fairly stable numbers.

“The facts are very clear, both from scientific research and from local knowledge, that climate change is occurring rapidly in the Arctic and is causing major problems for wildlife, and for northern peoples,” said Dr. Peter Ewins, Director, Species Conservation, WWF-Canada.

“The more information we gather, the more we realise that polar bears are in increasing trouble.”

WWF-Canada expects at least four major outcomes arising from this Friday’s meeting: a North American Conservation Action Plan for polar bears; strong leadership to reduce all main threats, including climate change; full protection of all critical habitats for polar bears; and major increases in resources to complete proper scientific research.

Convening a roundtable with stakeholders was the first of three key steps called for by WWF-Canada in a letter sent to Environment Minister Jim Prentice last November.

The remaining steps include working with the Nunavut government to ensure an immediate cessation of polar bear over-harvesting in the depleted Baffin Bay subpopulation until the population has recovered and a bilateral agreement with Greenland is in place; and implementing a Conservation Action Plan for Canada’s polar bears that addresses all main threats, including climate change.

“WWF completely agrees with former Environment Minister John Baird’s statement last April, when he said, ‘A declining polar bear population is not an option for Canada,’” said Ewins.

“With two-thirds of the world's polar bears, Canada has a major international responsibility to safeguard these animals and their habitats for future generations. We look forward to seeing these major outcomes and firm commitments from the Canadian government and the assembled roundtable participants. By working together effectively, we still can ensure a healthy future for polar bears.”
Threatened polar bear mother and cubs in Hudson Bay.
© WWF-Canada / Peter Ewins Enlarge

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