Course:CONS200/2021/Keep Polar Bears Safe: Conservation Concerns

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Endangered arctic - starving polar bear
Endangered arctic-starving polar bear

Polar bears are the largest bears in the world and the Arctic’s top predator, they are a powerful symbol of the strength and endurance of the Arctic.[1] Polar bears are forever linked to the Arctic sea ice, where they hunt their seal prey. The bears are found in five nations: the U.S. (Alaska), Canada, Russia, Greenland, and Norway (Svalbard). Scientists have divided them into 19 sub-populations for wildlife management purpose worldwide, some of which are shared by more than one country.[2]The most recent size estimate for Polar bears in the Southern Beaufort Sea stock is 900 animals and size estimate for Polar bears in the Chukchi/Bering Sea stock is unavailable according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.[3]

Currently, the sea ice in the Arctic is vast and ever-changing which makes polar bears' home enormous and ever-changing. Being at the top of the food web, polar bears can signal that there are problems in the Arctic marine ecosystem. They are likely to be among the most significantly affected species as the Arctic warms and sea ice melts. [1]As our planet warms and sea ice melts, polar bear populations are increasingly at risk, more and more polar bears can be found resting along Arctic coastlines.[1]

Conservation Concerns

Climate Change

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) in the drift ice region north of Svalbard[4]

Climate change is accelerating sea-ice loss and worsening wildfires, floods, drought, avalanches, heatwaves and sea-level rise. It’s changing the flow of rivers, eliminating streams altogether and increasing ocean acidification, which threatens polar bear's life. Climate change is also contributing to the degradation of natural habitats, which is being felt by polar bears around the world. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at least twice as fast as the global average and sea ice cover is diminishing by nearly four per cent per decade. The loss of sea ice affects polar bears’ ability to find food. Spatial and temporal sea ice changes will lead to shifts in trophic interactions involving polar bears through reduced availability and abundance of their main prey: seals. [5]Polar bears hunts seals around the ice edge which prepares them two thirds of the energy they need for the entire year in late spring and early summer.[6]With the ice retreating earlier in spring and forming later in winter, the bears have less time to hunt prey and have to go without food for longer.[7]While polar bears have shown some ability to adapt to changes in their surroundings – for example, by foraging for food on land – scientists project polar bears will become more food-stressed as sea ice diminishes and populations will decline.[6]The climate change on polar bears resulted a decline in polar bears' body condition and lower average weight in adult female polar bears. [8]The other huge climate change on polar bears is warming which linked to increases in contamination and exposure to diseases.[9]The contamination includes polar bears' dens which mother polar bears use to protect their offsprings. Research shows that without action to greatly reduce carbon emissions and stabilize our climate, we could lose all but a few polar bear populations by the end of the century. [2]

Commercial Activity

Sea ice decline is anticipated to increase human access to the Arctic Ocean allowing for offshore oil and gas development in once inaccessible areas. [10]When companies and governments go into the Arctic Ocean for oil drilling, there are two negative impacts on polar bears' natural habitat: oil drilling and oil spilling. For oil drilling, Oil and gas operators and it’s enablers are harassing, threatening, and potentially killing polar bears without regulation on land and ocean in Arctic land.[11] For oil spilling, the long history of oil spills around the world has made one thing clear: the only way to prevent an oil spill is to keep oil in the ground. [12]Unfortunately, the business profit and opportunities let big firms continue their actions even though they are disturbing wildlife in the Arctic Ocean.

Oil spills could potentially result in reduced survival of individual polar bears from: 1)swallow oil when they are grooming or consuming oiled prey; 2) oiling of fur and associated thermoregulatory stresses when go into the ocean 3) disturbance, injuries, or death from interactions with humans during oil drilling commercial activities. Polar bears may be particularly vulnerable to disturbance when nutritionally stressed and during denning.[3] When cleanup crews were send in, they could disturb an occupied den which might result in death of baby polar bears through their mother's abandonment. In spring, females with cubs of the year that den near or on land and migrate to off-shore areas may encounter oil.[3] Given the potential negative consequences of an oil spill on marine wildlife populations in the Arctic, it is important to develop and maintain plans on how to respond to oiled wildlife in the event of a spill.[10]Protocols and procedures such as Region 7 Spill Response Plan for Oil and Hazardous Substances are taken into measure to ensure both human and polar bear's safty.

Region 7 Spill Response Plan for Oil and Hazardous Substances[13]
1 Knowledge of the contents and use of the Alaska Regional Response Team’s Alaska

Federal and State Preparedness Plan for Response to Oil and Hazardous Substance

Discharges and Releases (Unified Plan), including Annex G, Wildlife Protection


2 Knowledge of the contents and use of the Region 7 Spill Response Plan for Oil and

Hazardous Substances

3 Incident Command System training (on-line training is available at

4 Knowledge of the laws and regulations that apply to handling and ―taking‖ of marine


5 Knowledge of polar bear life history and distribution
6 The Service’s Bear Awareness and Firearm Safety training
7 Basic aviation safety training (if using aircraft for response operations)
8 HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) training

(includes initial 40- or 24-hour course and 8-hour annual refresher training)

9 Wilderness first aid training
10 Arctic survival training.

Since the 1990s, mining operations have used surveillance technology known as FLIR — Forward Looking Infrared — to identify the heat signature of maternal bears that bore as deep as four meters under thick ice to give birth. But FLIR is often disrupted by bad weather that blinds it to dens in some surveys and causes it to falsely identify dens in others and works less than 50% of the time.[14]


Polar Bear Eating Fish

Other than climate change and commercial activities, now polar bears’ bodies are holding toxic chemicals originally made in distant factories, substances that threats adult bears’ health at a level 100 times greater than the acceptable threshold of risk for humans.[15] For cubs, the risk is more than 1,000 times that threshold.[15]Polar bears mainly consume different types of seals. However, because of thinner ice, polar bears are starting to feed on land-based animals like sea birds, geese, and reindeer, as well as eating animals’ eggs, and whale carcasses they find. Chemical levels in whales can be especially high, possibly because they migrate near pollution sources. [16]The toxins in polar bears' bodies mainly are polychlorinated biphenyls (also known as PCBs), pesticides, flame retardants, and mercury.[16] Research also has shown that brain function is affected by pollution. Pollutant exposure has been related to various adverse health effects in polar bears majorly in endocrine and immune systems, as well as thyroid hormone levels and lipid metabolism. However, current understanding of population level risks and effects of contaminants in polar bears is still very limited.[17]Between 1985 and 2010 the overall risk in cubs declined by 30 percent because many of the older chemicals were banned under an international treaty that took effect in 2004. Despite this progress, chemicals produced more recently are keeping the risk high. [15]

International Agreements

First International Scientific Meeting on the Polar Bear, 1965

Growing public concern about polar bear hunting and other human activities in the Arctic, such as oil exploration, led to the First International Scientific Meeting. Proceedings of the first International Scientific Meeting on the Polar Bear, held in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1965, to report on the current state of knowledge of the biology, ecology and conservation needs of the polar bear in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia and the Soviet Union.[18]The meeting set the stage for additional international conferences and research efforts, which eventually led to an international agreement on polar bear conservation.[19]

The International Agreement on Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat, 1973

In 1973, the five polar bear Range States, Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United States of America, signed a multilateral treaty on the conservation of polar bears which prohibits unregulated sport hunting of polar bears and the hunting of polar bears from an aircraft and large motorized vessels.[20] The five nations must take appropriate action to protect the ecosystems of polar bears, with special attention made to migration routes, denning and feeding sites of polar bears.[20] Members of the agreement have the responsibility for conducting research programs, sharing research findings and coordinating their research with other member nations.[20] Each nation is also responsible for managing polar bear populations using sound conservation practices based on the best available scientific data.[20]

United States Marine Mammal Protection Act, 1972 (MMPA)

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was enacted on October 21, 1972. All marine mammals are protected under the MMPA which means polar bears are protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The MMPA prohibits, with certain exceptions, the "take" of marine mammals in U.S. waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the U.S. Jurisdiction for MMPA is shared by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The Service’s Branch of Permits is responsible for issuing take permits when exceptions are made to MMPA.[21]

In general, exceptions may be made for:[21]

  1. Pre-MMPA specimens taken before December 21, 1972
  2. International Agreements entered into by the United States before December 21, 1972
  3. Alaska natives
  4. Scientific research, public display, enhancing the survival or recovery of a species, and incidental take in commercial fisheries
  5. Waivers granted by the U.S. Government

The Endangered Species Act, 1973 (ESA)

Status ESA

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) is administered by the U.S. Departments of Interior and Commerce (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey). It was created to protect animals and plants that were in danger of becoming extinct.[22]As of 2008, polar bears are listed as "threatened" on the U.S. Endangered Species List, mainly from the loss of important sea ice habitat.[19] As of May 10, 2016, the act listed 1,367 species of animals and 901 species of plants as endangered or threatened.[22]

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species. CITES was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of IUCN (The World Conservation Union). [23] In 1975, the polar bear was placed on CITES Appendix II. Appendix II includes species identified as threatened, or likely to become endangered if trade isn't regulated. International trade of polar bears, or their parts, is permitted with proper documentation issued by the government of the exporting country.[19]

IUCN/The World Conservation Union

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a membership Union composed of both government and civil society organizations. It harnesses the experience, resources and reach of its more than 1,400 Member organizations and the input of more than 18,000 experts. This diversity and vast expertise makes IUCN the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.[24]The polar bear is listed as "Vulnerable" by IUCN/The World Conservation Union. This means the species is likely to move into the endangered category if conservation efforts are not sustained or effective.[19]


Decades ago, the biggest threat to polar bears was hunting. Now melting Arctic ice is affecting transportation, food, emissions, and polar bear mobility which all could increase polar bears’ exposure to oil spill threats and toxins. Because of the unique weather and dangerous environment, there are polar bear populations about which scientists still know very little, and the total number of polar bears worldwide remains uncertain. But the trend in populations for which there is data point to a species in decline, compared to two or three decades ago. We should educate the public about climate change and how we each can help, and provide leadership for carbon emission reductions in their communities. Advocates and environmentalists should use more scientific information to help Arctic species’ and habitat, and to continue to keep the plight of polar bears and other wildlife in the public consciousness.


Please use the Wikipedia reference style. Provide a citation for every sentence, statement, thought, or bit of data not your own, giving the author, year, AND page. For dictionary references for English-language terms, I strongly recommend you use the Oxford English Dictionary. You can reference foreign-language sources but please also provide translations into English in the reference list.

Note: Before writing your wiki article on the UBC Wiki, it may be helpful to review the tips in Wikipedia: Writing better articles.[25]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 About Polar Bears. "wwf".
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Polar bears international". Polar bears international. Archived from the original on |archive-url= requires |archive-date= (help).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Susanne Miller, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Marine Mammals Management. "OIL SPILL RESPONSE PLAN FOR POLAR BEARS IN ALASKA".CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. "Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) in the drift ice region north of Svalbard".
  5. Andrew E. Derocher, Nicholas J. Lunn, Ian Stirling (01 April 2004). "Polar Bears in a Warming Climate". Integrative and Comparative Biology, Volume 44, Issue 2. Check date values in: |date= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Polar bears and climate change: What does the science say?". carbon brief.
  7. Ian Stirling,Andrew E. Derocher. "Effects of climate warming on polar bears: a review of the evidence". Global Change Biology.
  8. Andrew E. Derocher and Ian Stirling. "Aspects of survival in juvenile polar bears". Canadian Journal of Zoology.
  9. Todd C. Atwood,Bruce G. Marcot,David C. Douglas,Steven C. Amstrup,Karyn D. Rode,George M. Durner,Jeffrey F. Bromaghin (29 June 2016). "Forecasting the relative influence of environmental and anthropogenic stressors on polar bears". Ecosphere. 7.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. 10.0 10.1 Ryan R. Wilson a, *, Craig Perham a, 1, Deborah P. French-McCay b, Richard Balouskus. "Potential impacts of offshore oil spills on polar bears in the Chukchi Sea". Environmental Pollution – via Elsevier.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. "Keep polar bears and their extensive range safe from oil drilling". Mongabay.
  12. "Arctic Oil Drilling".
  13. "Area Contingency Planning (ACP) HandbooK".
  14. Darryl, Fears. "Arctic drilling operators can't accurately pinpoint polar bear dens — which means they can't avoid destroying them". The Washington Post.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Deirdre, Lockwood. "Polar Bear Cubs at High Risk from Toxic Industrial Chemicals, Despite Bans". Scientific American.
  16. 16.0 16.1 DAVID, KATES. "Polar Bears Face Challenges From Toxins And Climate Change".
  17. Pierre Blévin (Currently affiliated with Akvaplan-niva AS), Jon Aars, Magnus Andersen, Anna Lippold, Sabrina Tartu and Heli Routti. "High levels of pollutants in polar bears from the Barents Sea – what are the reasons behind?". Science Norway.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  18. United States. Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife.; University of Alaska Fairbanks. International conference proceedings series.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 "conservation and research". sea world.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 "1973 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears". Polar Bears Canada.
  21. 21.0 21.1 "Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)".
  22. 22.0 22.1 "Facts About the Endangered Species Act of 1973". Live Science.
  23. "What is CITES". Cites.
  24. "About International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)". IUCN.
  25. (2018). Writing better articles. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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