Also see Polar Bear International's Conservation Concerns information.
(Laidre et al. 2018a)
Last updated: 2015
Serious concern began in the 1960s after years of increasing hunting.
1965: First international meeting on conservation of Polar Bears in Fairbanks Alaska. Polar Bear Specialist Group established by IUCN
1972: Hunting except for native subsistence purposes prohibited by U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act
1973: 5 Polar Bear nations, U.S., Canada, Denmark (for Greenland), Soviet Union and Norway (for Spitsbergen) draft agreement to restrict hunting, protect habitat and carry out research on Polar Bears (U.S. ratified in 1976) (Peacock et al. 2011)
1984: Total population in Alaska estimated at 2,000. Hunted by Inuit natives along north coast. 15 villages took 344 animals between 1985-87
1988: Agreement signed by native hunters to jointly manage Polar Bear harvest in Alaska and Canada.
2005: IUCN listed as Vulnerable (A3c) with Decreasing Populations (based on decline in area of occupancy) Version 2009.1
2006: US Fish and Wildlife calls for ban by Canada, Denmark, Norway, Union of Socialist Republics, and United States of "hunting of female Polar Bears with cubs and their cubs" and "hunting of Polar Bears in denning areas during periods when bears are moving into denning areas or are in dens." (Schliebe et al 2006)
2007: Population estimate worldwide, using best available data: 22,000 (USGS 2007)
2007: USGS in September predicts 2/3 of the population will disappear by 2050 and that Polar Bears will be restricted to the Arctic archipelago of Canada / northern Greenland coast
2008: Listed with U.S. Endangered Species Act as Threatened
2009: IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group documented "unprecedented sea ice retreats in 2007 and 2008" and confirmed earlier conclusion that unchecked global warming will threaten Polar Bears everywhere.
2009: Population estimates for all 19 Polar Bear populations about 20,000 to 25,000 individuals. (IUCN 2009)
Unlike all other bear species, Polar Bears still occupy most of their original habitat.
2009: Polar Bear Specialist Group reveals that eight Polar Bear population groups are estimated to be in decline, up from five in 2005.
2009: U.S. government will set aside 200,541 square miles in Alaska and off its coast as "critical habitat" for polar bears.
2015: Polar Bear Specialist Group concluded one subpopulation had increased, six were stable and, there were insufficient data to provide an assessment of the current trend of the remaining nine. (Wiig et al. 2015)
2016: Revision to the global population estimate (using best available data): 26,000 (Regehr et al. 2016). (Reflected improved data collection in several subpopulations rather than actual changes in global abundance.)
2019: Revision to the global population estimate (using best available data): 23,315 (range: 15,972–31,212). Four subpopulations still lacked any reliable survey of abundance, and most subpopulations lacked enough surveys to estimate trends (Hamilton and Derocher 2019).
2021: PBSG synthesizes all available studies and concluded that over the last 23 years (i.e., two generations of Polar Bears), two subpopulations have “Very Likely Decreased”, one subpopulation has “Likely Decreased”, and other subpopulations continue to lack enough surveys to estimate trends.
How much energy does a polar bear need to survive?
By asking one of the San Diego Zoo's polar bears to walk on a special treadmill, scientists were able to better understand the metabolism of polar bears in the wild.
This research study showed that a polar bear's energy needs are higher than previously thought.
© San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.
Aars et al (2006)
Molnar et al (2010)
Prestrud & Stirling (1994)
Schliebe et al (2006)
Stirling and Derocher (2007)
Stirling et al (2008)