23 Feb

Arctic Polar Bear Distribution and Trends

polar bear map

This Saturday, February 27th, is International Polar Bear Day. According to Polar Bears International, there are fewer than 25,000 polar bears left in the wild and subpopulations are continuing to decline fast in number.

Our map of the week shows a North Pole Stereographic Projection of Arctic polar bear subpopulation distribution and trends. Evidently, populations are declining in five Arctic regions. To give you an idea of these fast declining populations, in Southern Beaufort, for example, the population dropped about 40 percent between 2001 to 2010, from 1,500 to 900 bears (National Geographic).

So what is causing our polar bear populations to decline so rapidly? The Arctic predators depend on  sea ice to catch marine mammals such as seals as their primary source of food and also to rest and breed. However, climate change is causing drastic amounts of sea ice to melt and putting the Arctic predators at risk.

Climate change is the main threat facing polar bears because warming temperatures are shrinking and destroying their habitats. Sea levels are currently rising at the fastest rate in the last 28 centuries, which means that sea ice must be melting at the fastest rate in the last 28 centuries (New York Times). 

“For polar bears, sea ice losses mean:

  • Reduced access to food
  • Drop in body condition
  • Lower cub survival rates
  • Increase in drowning
  • Increase in cannibalism
  • Loss of access to denning areas”

Scientists predict that as the Arctic continues to warm, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could disappear within this century (Polar Bear International). Global action is needed to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in order to mitigate rising temperatures, reduce sea ice melt, and to save our polar bears from losing their habitats and going extinct.


The Arctic Biodiversity Data Service

Polar Bear International

The New York Times

National Geographic

Written by: Josh Paul and Kathleen Emerson (2/23/2016).