Polar bears: The current factsAs some recent media reports have mistakenly cited incorrect facts about Canadian and circumarctic polar bears, WWF-Canada provides a brief summary of the most important facts about Canadian polar bears.
In this way we hope that readers will be able to base their thinking, writing and decisions on accurate facts, not distorted information. Much of this information is contained in the recently published 190-page report from the World Conservation Union’s Polar Bear Specialist Group most recent Working Meeting (IUCN 2006).
Basic Ecology of Polar Bears.
Range and numbers.
There are currently 19 populations of polar bears in the Arctic, in Canada, Alaska (USA), Russia, Norway (Svalbard) and Greenland (Denmark). Thirteen of these populations occur either wholly or partially in Canada, ranging from the Ontario shores of Hudson Bay as far north as Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, and from northern Yukon in the west to Labrador in the east. Twelve of these populations occur at least partially in Nunavut. More on the polar bear's sea ice habitat >>
Polar bears often move over huge distances in their annual cycle. Because population estimates are very expensive to obtain in the Arctic, census data are patchy for some polar bear populations. The current overall estimate is of 20-25,000 wild polar bears, with approximately 15,000 (about 2/3) occurring in Canada.
Trends in Canadian polar bear populations.
(extracted from IUCN 2006, Polar Bear Specialist Group Proceedings from 2005 meeting). Much of the data in the IUCN Proceedings were provided by the Government of Nunavut which participated fully in the production of the status report.
|Population||No. (year of most recent estimate)||Status (re. historic levels)||Current Trend||Estimated risk of decline in next 10 years|
|S Beaufort Sea (Canada/USA)||1500 (2006)||Reduced||Declining||No estimate|
|N Beaufort Sea||1200 (1986)||Not reduced||Stable||No estimate|
|Viscount Melville||215 (1996)||Severely reduced||Increasing||Very low|
|Lancaster Sound||2541 (1998)||Not reduced||Stable||Higher|
|McClintock Channel||284 (2000)||Severely reduced||Increased||Very low|
|Gulf of Boothia||1523 (2000)||Not reduced||Stable||Lower|
|Foxe Basin||2300 (2004)||Not reduced||Stable||Lower|
|W Hudson Bay||935 (2004)||Reduced||Declining||Very High|
|S Hudson Bay||1000 (1988)||Not reduced||Stable||Lower *|
|Davis Strait (Canada/Greenland)||1650 (2004)||Data deficient||Data deficient||Lower|
|Baffin Bay (Canada/Greenland)||1546 (2004)||Reduced||Declining||Very high|
|Norwegian Bay||190 (1998)||Not reduced||Declining||Higher|
|Kane Basin (Canada/Greenland)||164 (1998)||Reduced||Declining||Very high|
* Very recent Ontario Government research shows that polar bears in this population are now experiencing significant declines in body condition since the mid-1980s, which, when combined with satellite data on sea ice reductions, suggests that population declines may follow.1
To summarize the above table:
Of the 13 Canadian polar bear populations, the current trends for the 11 populations not known to be severely reduced from historic levels are:
- five populations declining,
- five populations stable and
- one population is data deficient.
The main threats to the continued survival of polar bear populations are:
- Global warming (especially the melting of sea ice, and changes to marine food supply and availability);
- Contamination of food supply by toxic chemicals such as persistent organochlorine pollutants (DDT, dieldrin, dioxins, etc.) and heavy metals such as mercury;
- Marine oil pollution and disturbance associated with increased industrial and shipping activities in arctic waters;
- Disturbance to key habitats from industrial explorations and developments (e.g., denning concentrations in oil-gas rich areas); and
- Intraspecific predation (i.e., cannibalism, often seen in bear species)
- Increased conflicts with humans along Arctic coastlines (human safety issues, often requiring removal of polar bears).
- Scientific research
1 Obbard, M.E. 2006. Temporal trends in the Body Condition of Southern Hudson Bay Polar Bears. Climate Change Research Information Note Number 3. Government of Ontario, Applied Research and Development Branch. Pp. 8. (http://sit/mnr/gov.on.ca)