Polar bear populations on the decline



Posted on 16 December 2006  | 
Polar bear cubs.
© WWF / Kevin SchaferEnlarge
The number of polar bear populations in decline has increased from one in 2001 to five in 2006, WWF warned today. There are only 19 polar bear populations in the world, so this decline represents more then a quarter of the species’ populations.

Declining populations of polar bears indicate that the entire Arctic is under immense stress as a result of climate change. With the Arctic warming at more than twice the rate of the rest of the world, and sea ice over the Arctic projected to disappear in summer before the end of this century, polar bears face serious trouble, especially as they depend on sea ice to live, hunt and breed.

“The polar bear’s powerful grip on the Arctic is slipping," said Stefan Norris, head of conservation with the WWF International Arctic Programme.

“We need to stop run-away warming. Climate change is melting the ice-bear’s toe-hold on life. This bad news for polar bears is also bad news for other arctic species, and for the indigenous peoples whose traditional ways of life depend on them.”

According to a newly-published report by the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Polar Bear Specialist Group, the two best studied polar bear sub-populations in the world, the western Hudson Bay population in Canada, and the southern Beaufort Sea population (USA/Canada), have declined by 22 per cent and 17 per cent respectively over the past two decades.

The other three populations in decline are those in Baffin Bay and Kane Basin – shared between Greenland and Canada – and Norwegian Bay in Canada.

"Climate change is the main threat to polar bears and is clearly implicated in the western Hudson Bay sub-population. It is likely also a key factor in the Southern Beaufort Sea,” said Professor Andrew Derocher, chair of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group. “Climate stabilisation is the key conservation action now for polar bears."

Findings of drowning polar bears, cannibalism, increased numbers of ‘problem’ bears — bears looking for food near Arctic communities — were reported from many areas in the range of the bears. These observations are consistent with predicted changes caused by climate warming.

The report's findings have prompted WWF to issue an urgent call to action to the governments of the world to cut carbon pollution, the cause of dramatic warming in the Arctic.

For further information:
Alison Sutton Senior, Press Officer
WWF-UK
Tel: +44 01483 412388
Email: asutton@wwf.org.uk

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