Dramatic polar bear population decline underlines need for climate action
The study, published online today in the journal Ecological Applications, analyzed data on polar bears in northeast Alaska and the Northwest Territories between 2001 and 2010. It associates the population decline with an unprecedented loss of sea ice due to climate change, which reduces polar bear’s access to the seals that are their primary food.
The study’s findings highlight the need for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the main driver of climate change. The report also shows the importance of continued investment in research--both scientific and local and traditional knowledge--to properly manage polar bear populations and make sound development decisions in the Arctic long-term.
Quotes“Here are concrete numbers to show us that the impacts of climate change are happening now. We know human activities have caused global wildlife populations to drop by over half in the last 40 years. We need to change course if we want to stop further habitat loss and ensure resilient wildlife populations, both in the Arctic and around the world.”
- Margaret Williams, Managing Director for WWF’s Arctic program in Alaska.
“This is a clear warning sign of the impact the warming Arctic has on ice-dependent species like the polar bear. Given that this subpopulation is at the edge of the range, it’s no surprise to see this happening so soon. We need to take firm action right now to address climate change, the main threat to polar bears. These findings also highlight the importance of high-quality and current information – with this information, we believe that the co-management system will meet the challenge of ensuring a sustainable harvest of polar bears for the long-term benefit of people and bears.”
- Paul Crowley, Director, Arctic Program, WWF-Canada
- The southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation is jointly managed by Canada and the U.S.
- Polar bears are listed as a species of special concern in Canada, under the national and Northwest Territories Species At Risk Acts
- Polar bears are listed as threatened in the U.S., under the Endangered Species Act, and as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
- “Polar bear populations in the southern Beaufort Sea during a period of sea ice decline” on Ecological Applications
- U.S. Geological Survey media release
- Polar bear background
- Map: Polar bear populations around the world
- WWF in the Beaufort Sea
- WWF’s Global Arctic Programme
- WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative
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