There are currently between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears in the world today. In the 1980s it was estimated there were around the same figure, so it appears that in the last 30 years the figure has remained stable. It has always been difficult to accurately count the numbers of polar bears as their locations are so remote. They all live in the North Pole and it is a continual challenge accessing certain areas in order to count the numbers of bears.
There are several reasons why the Polar Bear is seen as an endangered species. The most alarming current concern is global warming and the disappearing of the North Pole Ice cap. This is the natural habitat of the polar bear so without ice it would struggle to survive. The bear uses rafts of ice to hunt for its staple diet, seals. The disappearance of the ice means the as well as then bears eating less they also have further to swim in order to reach mainland. Both of these factors have caused a reduction in the bear’s blubber content which is essential for keeping them warm.
Since 1980 the average weight of a female polar bear has dropped from 290 kg to 230kg. This lack of nourishment has led to lower reproductive levels so less cubs are born and when they do they are less likely to survive. It also means the bear is more susceptible to perishing from disease. The polar bear is no longer threatened by hunters. In 1973 Norway, Russia, Greenland, China and the USA signed the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and this has reduced the commercial and non-commercial hunting of the bears. It was the first time the 5 nations had signed any environmental issue together.
Currently there are nineteen main populations of Polar Bear. Of these some are decreasing, some are increasing numbers while some are losing numbers. The three areas that give the most concern are Western Hudson Bay, the Southern Beaufort Sea and Baffin Bay. In Western Hudson Bay there has been a 22% decrease in the population due to a reduction in sea ice. The Southern Beaufort Sea along the North coast of Greenland and Canada saw the population of bears drop by 40% from 1500 in 2001, to 900 in 2010. This was as a result of the ice conditions and the low local population of seals in the area. Since 2010 the population of the bears in the region has been maintained.
The population of polar bears in Baffin Bay is constantly under threat. The bears are having to spend more time on the mainland as the sea ice has retreated. The area has also seen hunting from the local indigenous population and hunters while in other areas it isn’t present. Overall the numbers of polar bears do seem to have stabilized. Canada has the largest population of bears and their numbers are so steady that Government issues hunting permits each season, and the local Inuit population are able kill polar bears in order to survive.
There are currently conflicts of environmental and ecological concerns. People want to respect the local indigenous population’s ways of life, yet at the same time protect the polar bear numbers. The real issue however, will be the future of the ice cap. There are concerns that the ice cap will disappear in the next century. If this is the case it does not necessarily mean the end for the polar bear. It will not be easy, but the bear will have to adapt to the new conditions if it is going to survive in the long term.