Polar bears depend on Arctic ice to hunt and raise their young. But the ice is shrinking. Help us protect them and their habitat.

By helping to protect polar bears you’re helping to make sure the Arctic food chain stays healthy – for the benefit of wildlife and people in and beyond the Arctic.

The threats to polar bears

Reduced sea ice caused by climate change

Two polar bears on a small iceberg in the Arctic Ocean
Two polar bears on a small iceberg in the Arctic Ocean, Svalbard.

The most serious threat to polar bears is climate change. The Arctic is warming faster than the global average, meaning that the sea ice that polar bears need is melting earlier and forming later each year.

Less sea ice means that it’s more difficult for female polar bears to get onto land to make their den; and in the spring it’s more difficult for polar bears to feed. All of this means that polar bears are fasting for longer, making it harder for them to survive the summer season.

Oil and gas exploration

The delicate Arctic ecosystem may be devastatingly affected by shipping, development, and oil and gas exploration.

For example, an oil spill could have catastrophic and long-lasting effects on the whole of the highly specialised marine ecosystem.

Human-wildlife conflict

In some areas polar bears are spending more time on land. This brings them into closer contact with people, as they enter towns and villages out of curiosity or to find food. This conflict results in bears and peoples being seriously injured – or even killed.

How your adoption can help

Together we’re helping polar bears

Preserving polar bear habitat

We’re identifying critical habitats used by polar bears and other Arctic species – such as key resting, feeding, and breeding areas.

We have to make sure these important areas receive special protection in order to safeguard their future for the people and wildlife that depend on the Arctic.

Working with governments, industries and individuals

We need to minimise the warming that’s melting the polar bear's habitat: sea ice. To do this we’re working to help cut global greenhouse gas emissions and encourage the switch to renewable energy.

We work with communities across the Arctic to try and avoid them coming into conflict with polar bears. In northern Canada we’ve provided steel food storage containers so people can store their food outside without it attracting unwanted attention. Keeping some distance between polar bears and people is safer for all.

Supporting research

We fund research that aims to further our knowledge and understanding of polar bear populations, and how they could respond to changes in their environment.

More about polar bears

Scientific name
Ursus maritimus
Location
Greenland, Svalbard in Norway, northern Canada, Alaska in the US, and Russia
Habitat
Arctic sea ice
Wild population
Approximately 20,000 – 25,000
Extinction risk
Vulnerable
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Polar bears are the biggest land-based carnivores in the world. Their Latin name, Ursus maritimus, means ‘sea bear’ – reflecting the fact that they are strong swimmers and spend most of their life around water. Their thick white coat and a layer of fat keep them warm and camouflaged in their harsh Arctic habitat.

Polar bears generally live and hunt alone, though they can be quite social. They mainly eat seals; polar bears have such a remarkable sense of smell that they can detect a seal swimming in the water – below a metre of compacted snow – up to a kilometre away.

These impressive animals roam across vast areas – sometimes up to 600,000 square kilometres – to find food and mates. The adults are strong swimmers, and can swim for many hours to get from one piece of ice to another.

Climate change is currently the single greatest threat to polar bears. Their icy habitat, which they depend on to hunt and breed, is melting away. They are officially classed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN.

The Svalbard polar bears

Pronounced svaal-baard.

The Svalbard polar bears are group of male and females, aged between 5 and 12 years old, that live in the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic – a group of islands owned by Norway.

WWF is tracking the polar bears as they travel across the sea ice to find out how they are adapting to climate change.