Polar bear survey shows good news, but worrying trends
Baffin Bay and Kane Basin populations are likely stable, for now
A newly released survey shows two polar bear subpopulations previously thought to be declining are likely stable. But the survey also finds that the bears are increasingly feeling the effects of shrinking sea ice habitat.
About the “Re-Assessment of the Baffin Bay and Kane Basin Polar Bear Subpopulations” survey:
- WWF contributed funding for the recent survey, which was conducted from 2011-2013 by the Governments of Nunavut and Greenland.
- These subpopulations are shared between Canada (Nunavut) and Greenland.
- The Baffin Bay and Kane Basin subpopulations are now estimated to be higher than the last time the bears were surveyed in the 1990s.
- Sea ice habitat for the Baffin Bay subpopulation has decreased dramatically. The length of the summer season has increased by 12 days/decade since 1979, and sea ice melt is occurring 3-4 weeks earlier in the 2000s than in the 1990s.
- For Baffin Bay polar bears, this habitat loss has resulted in a shift in range northward, and bears are spending 20-30 days more on land now compared to the 1990s.
- Though the subpopulations are currently stable, the report outlines many areas of concern for the Baffin Bay subpopulation related to declining sea ice due to climate change. Changes between the 1990s and 2010s surveys indicate:
- decreases in body condition,
- declines in cub production,
- an increase in the frequency of long swimming events for female polar bears.
“It’s definitely a positive sign to see population numbers looking good, but it’s also worrying to see that climate change is beginning to have a noticeable effect, even on northerly populations. This reiterates the importance of monitoring to understand how polar bears are coping with the effects of climate change, while at the same time focusing our efforts on maintaining polar bear habitat within the Last Ice Area.”
Melanie Lancaster, senior specialist, Arctic species, WWF Arctic Programme