Polar Bear Habitats

There are between 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the world. Roughly 60% of those live in Canada. Polar bears can also be found in Russia, Greenland, Norway (Svalbard) and the United States (Alaska).

In May 2008, the U.S listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, citing sea ice losses in the Arctic from global warming as the single biggest threat to polar bears. Polar bears depend on sea ice for hunting, breeding, and in some cases, denning. In recent years, summer sea ice losses in the Arctic have been accelerating.

The IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group also lists sea ice losses from a warming Arctic as the biggest threat to polar bear survival. The chart below characterizes the condition of the 19 sub-populations of polar bears in the world according to their region.


Polar bear population status and trends. Environment Canada image.

Canada’s Western Hudson Bay polar bear population has seen a 22% decline since the early 1980s, attributed to earlier ice break-up on Hudson Bay. Environment Canada recently released information reclassifying Churchill’s  western Hudson Bay polar bear population from declining to “likely stable”.

However, scientists predict that unless we take action to stop climate change, we will lose two-thirds of all polar bears by the middle of the century and all of them by the end of the century.

Northern Inuit communities in Canada are reporting increases in polar bear numbers on land. Traditional hunters believe this means an increase in population. However, some biologists attribute the reports to polar bears being driven ashore by lack of sea ice.

Mother and cub polar bear trek across sparse sea ice. Kit Miller photo.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released statements claiming “. . . extensive scientific studies have indicated that the increased observation of bears on land is a result of changing distribution patterns and a result of changes in the accessibility of sea ice habitat.”

Continued action against global warming is needed to insure the preservation of the polar bear and the Arctic environment and ecosystems.

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