One of the world’s most magnificent apex predators – the polar bear – is at a crossroads. Climate change has already resulted in the loss of large areas of sea ice habitat for polar bears, and projections point to the situation getting worse in the coming decades.
Polar bears need sea ice to hunt seals, travel and find mates to breed: as the ice disappears, bear populations face an increasingly challenging struggle for survival. At the same time, human activity in the Arctic is growing.
We've been working for many years to protect polar bears. One of our most important activities, is to better understand them: it’s impossible to plan long-term management strategies without having good information to base them on.
No one knows for certain how many polar bears roam the Arctic. The best estimate is from 22,000 to 31,000 – but while we have good data on some ‘subpopulations’, we know very little about some others.
That’s why we’re working closely with governments and other agencies in the Arctic to carry out extensive monitoring and population surveys through innovative research techniques including genetic identification and satellite tracking.
We’ve supported biopsy darting operations, which are central to these efforts: less intrusive than tranquilising and marking animals, scientists fire a single small dart which takes a 5mm sample of fur, skin and fat from a bear. The darting process takes less than three minutes, and yields large amounts of valuable data which can then be analysed in a laboratory.
Coupled with traditional knowledge from Inuit peoples, the results of all these efforts are helping us better understand and plan for the changing needs of this iconic animal.