Polar Bears Numbers Affected by Climate Change, Hunting, Industry and Toxins

We’re days away from Friday’s federal Environment Minister’s National Roundtable on Polar Bears, in Winnipeg, where experts will gather to — one hopes — map out a conservation strategy for Canada’s polar bear populations. As they do, they’ll no doubt take a closer look at where polar bear numbers are most in decline, and where they seem to be holding their own:

Of the eight [out of 13] sub-populations showing clear signs of ecological problems, five have declining numbers (western Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, Kane Basin, Norwegian Bay, and southern Beaufort Sea), and a sixth (southern Hudson Bay) is showing clear biological signs of stress.

Two sub-populations in the central Arctic are increasing (McClintock Channel and Viscount Melville Sound) due to the cessation of past over-hunting, but are still below historic levels. The Davis Strait sub-population may be increasing, possibly due to increased harp seal numbers. The remaining four sub-populations probably have fairly stable numbers. (Source: WWF)

About two-thirds of the world’s 20-25,000 polar bears live in Canada. The relative health of their overall population is impacted by climate change, which is reducing their sea-ice habitat; over-hunting; increasing industrialisation of critical habitats; and toxic chemicals in the Arctic food chain.

Any conservation plan will have to address all four of these stressors. Concentrating on one while ignoring the others won’t be enough.

Meanwhile, sink your teeth into this latest report on how beluga whales and walruses are helping scientists learn more about climate change in the Arctic.