Polar bear status, distribution & population



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Polar Bear population status as of 2014.
© Polar Bear Technical Committee / IUCN

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Current polar bear populations

20-25,000
polar bears worldwide (estimated)
Source: IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialists Group

19
distinct sub-populations (see above map)

60-80%
of polar bears are in Canada
 

Status by country

Timeline of polar bear conservation

Before 1973

  • Several polar bear populations were decimated by unsustainable hunting by European, Russian and American hunters and trappers from the 1600s right through to the mid-1970's.

1973

2005

  • The polar bear was upgraded from Least Concern to Vulnerable by the the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, based on the likelihood of a decline in the total global polar bear population of more than 30% within the next 35 to 50 years.

2013

  • Ministers and other leaders from the five polar bear range states met in Moscow for the first International Forum on Polar Bear conservation. The leaders made significant commitments to address issues of polar bear habitat, research and trade. This event was supported by WWF.

Today

  • Today, polar bears are among the few large carnivores that are still found in roughly their original habitat and range--and in some places, in roughly their natural numbers.
  • Although most of the world's 19 populations have returned to healthy numbers, there are differences between them. Some are stable, some seem to be increasing, and some are decreasing due to various pressures.

    Status of the polar bear populations in 2014
    • 3 populations were in decline
    • 1 population was increasing
    • 6 populations were stable
    • 9 populations were data-deficient (information missing or outdated)
       
  • Some populations are still harvested quite heavily, and their status is uncertain.

In the future

Recent directional gene flow (ca. 3–10 generations) calculated on the basis of allelic frequencies ... / ©: Peacock E,et al. (2015). PLOS One
Over the past 3-10 polar bear generations, researchers determined that polar bear genes - and thus polar bears - are moving towards the Last Ice Area.
© Peacock E,et al. (2015). PLOS One
Drifting to Canada
A 2015 study of polar bear genetics over 3-10 generations shows that bears are moving towards Canada's Arctic archipelago and the Last Ice Area, where older, year-round sea ice is concentrated.

Older sea ice is being replaced by thinner ice that melts in the summer. The remaining multi-year ice collects along the northern fringe of Canada and Greenland. (Watch on Youtube)

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