Are Polar Bears thriving despite predictions

Updated: Apr 7

Despite recent reduction is sea level ice a report published in 2018 by the Global warming policy foundation confirms that polar bear population is continuing to increase and thrive though-out the arctic. Because of expected habitat loss caused by climate change, the polar bear is classified as a vulnerable species. For decades, large-scale hunting raised international concern for the future of the species, but populations rebounded after controls and quotas began to take effect. The world polar bear population has increased from a low of 12,000 in the late 1960's to a estimate of 25,000 today. The predicted 67% decline in polar bear numbers did not occur and the U.S. Geological Survey showed the top predators have similar amounts of body fat as 25 years ago, a good indicator of their overall health.

The Polar Bear population has not been assessed on a global scale since August 27 2015

There are 19 generally recognized, discrete sub-populations, though polar bears are thought to exist only in low densities in the area of the Arctic Basin. The 13 North American sub-populations range from the Beaufort Sea south to Hudson Bay and east to Baffin Bay in western Greenland and account for about 54% of the global population. In the Chukchi Sea, off the western coast of Alaska that is rich in marine life, polar bears are not in a dire situation due to retreating sea ice. The first formal study of polar bear population suggests that it's been healthy and relatively abundant in recent years, numbering about 3,000 animals.

Polar bear population estimates are just simply estimates. Some sub-populations of polar bears (if ever) haven’t been counted in decades. Other sub-populations are counted more frequently but in slightly different survey areas from year to year. The Polar Bear Specialist Group, reports that 10 of the 19 sub-populations areas are “data-deficient,” which isn’t exactly giving a good estimate on how polar bears are faring worldwide. Polar bears are long-lived animals that reproduce slowly and 40 to 73 percent of pregnant females could fail to deliver healthy cubs if ice breakup happens one month earlier than in the 1990’s.

There are further signs the polar bear populations continues to rebound despite the impacts of climate change. As Newfoundland’s seal fishery has collapsed under international pressure, the population of the harp seals of the north-west Atlantic has exploded. The harp seals population has grown to about 7.4 million animals, seven times what the population was in the 1970's. Thanks to the increased harp seal populations, Labrador’s polar bear population is among the healthiest in the world.

It dose appear that the only accurate ways to estimate the world's polar bear population, is with a time-consuming count done with helicopters flying over the arctic regions, or by satellite images. Monitoring polar bear population by air isn't easy , many bears live in remote areas that are logistically difficult and expensive to access by air. Satellite imagery has previously been used to count seals, penguins, whales, and polar bears but is not as detailed as population counts done by air. The polar bear count done by satellite images has to be done in the summer season to be remotely accurate. The aerial surveys provide additional information such as the sex and age of the bears, while satellite images can not provide this detailed information. ​ Polar bears are not native to Iceland but there have been some 600 reported sightings of polar bears in Iceland since the country was settled in 8th-9th century. 1880-1881 was an exceptionally cold winter, freezing large parts of the ocean and then 63 polar bears came adrift on ice flows from Greenland to Iceland. The winter of 1917-1918, referred to in Iceland as 'the Great Frosty Winter' (Frostaveturinn mikli) was also exceptionally cold too and then 27 polar bears arrived. It is illegal to kill polar bears that are swimming by the Icelandic shores, but if polar bears arrives on land it is national policy to kill polar bears on sight as they are inevitably hungry after their sea voyage, and a danger to residents and livestock.

In areas such as eastern Baffin Island and Hudson Bay, where most or all of the pack ice melts by mid- to late summer, the entire bear population must come ashore for two to four months in summer and early fall to wait for the ice to freeze again. Polar bears rely on sea ice as a platform for hunting seals, their primary source of food, and global warming and climate change are projected to cause a severe decline in the amount of sea ice. Polar bears are moving to new hunting grounds, leading to increased conflict with northern communities. The conflict between polar bears and residential communities has been growing not only in Canada but in Alaska, Greenland and Russia. Polar bear attacks made headlines in 2018: two fatal attacks in Nunavut, Canada and a narrowly averted death-by-mauling in northern Svalbard. Over the past year or so, Indigenous residents living along the James Bay coast in northern Ontario have reported an alarming rise in polar bear sightings.

Pizzly Bear hybrid, half grizzly bear, half polar bear

Polar bears have evolved from a grizzly bear ancestor. These are two species that are very closely related. Polar and grizzly bears have been mating across the circumpolar Arctic for thousands of years. Recent Pizzly or grizzly bear occurrences have been the result of a male grizzly mating with a female polar bear. Interbreeding is happening more frequently due to climate change. Male grizzlies can travel long distances looking for a mate while female grizzly bears tend to stay farther south as receding polar ice caps caused their territories to overlap. Polar bears have adapted to survive and hunt on ice and in Arctic waters, and grizzly bears have adapted to live on land. A hybrid bear with traits from each species would most likely not have the proper traits to live mainly on sea ice or mainly on land. There have been hybrid bear spices throughout our evolutionary history and yet they've never really survived.

Inuit traditionally hunt polar bears for their meat and fur. The polar bear hunt in western Hudson Bay is closely managed, with 24 tags issued each year.