Conservation & Research

Polar Bears

Conservation & Research

First International Scientific Meeting on the Polar Bear, 1965

  1. 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 on the Polar Bear in 1965. Attending were representatives from all five polar bear countries: Canada, Greenland (territory of Denmark), Norway, the United States, and the (former) Soviet Union. The meeting set the stage for additional international conferences and research efforts, which eventually led to an international agreement on polar bear conservation.

Growing public concern over human activities in the
Arctic have led to polar bear conservation measures.

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

  1. This agreement states that the five polar bear nations (Canada, Greenland, Norway, the United States, and the former Soviet Union) shall protect polar bear habitat, especially denning areas, feeding areas, and migratory routes; ban hunting of bears from aircraft and large motorized boats; conduct and coordinate management and research efforts; and exchange research results and data.
  2. The agreement allows the taking of polar bears for scientific purposes, for preventing serious disturbances in the management of other resources, for use by local people using traditional methods and exercising traditional rights, and for protection of life and property.
  3. Each nation has voluntarily established its own regulations and conservation practices using the knowledge gained from the international community as a whole.

United States Marine Mammal Protection Act, 1972

  1. Polar bears are protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
  2. The primary objective of the MMPA is to maintain the health and stability of the marine ecosystem and to obtain and maintain an optimum sustainable population of marine mammals.
  3. The MMPA prohibits taking and importing marine mammals unless a permit is issued for the purposes of public display, native subsistence, scientific research, or sustaining a depleted species. MMPA revisions in 1994 allow U.S. citizens to import polar bear "trophies" acquired in Canadian hunts. Polar bears in Alaska can be hunted only by Alaskan natives.

The Endangered Species Act, 1973 (ESA)

  1. 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 seeks to stop the extinction of wild animals and plants in the United States, other nations, and at sea.
  2. 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.

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

  1. 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.

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

IUCN/The World Conservation Union

  1. IUCN/The World Conservation Union is a worldwide conservation organization. This organization links together government agencies, non-government agencies, and independent states to encourage a worldwide approach to conservation.
  2. International Union for the Conservation of
    Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)

  3. The Polar Bear Specialist group works under the guidance of IUCN/The World Conservation Union's Species Survival Commission. This group helps to coordinate and identify the management and research efforts of the five polar bear nations ( Canada, Greenland, Norway, the United States, and the former Soviet Union).
  4. 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.

If conservation efforts are discontinued, polar bears may be at risk.

Polar Bears International

  1. Polar Bears International is an organization dedicated to the conservation of polar bears and their habitat. In an effort to raise awareness of the challenges polar bears face in their environment, Polar Bears International designated 2008 as the Year of the Polar Bear.


  1. Scientists use radio collars to track the movements of polar bears.
    • Once a polar bear is fitted with a radio collar, the collar sends signals to a receiving station via satellite. Scientists can enter the data into a computer program that plots the polar bear's path.
    • Only female polar bears can be tracked using radio collars. Male polar bears have necks wider than their heads, and the collars simply fall off.
  2. The movements of polar bears can also be studied by following their tracks in the snow, usually by aircraft.
  3. Other behaviors are recorded by observing polar bears directly, or finding evidence of polar bears, such as a partially eaten seal.
  4. Most polar bear research is conducted in the spring or summer when weather conditions are more favorable to humans.

Zoological Parks

  1. Having polar bears at zoological parks provides the opportunity for the public to learn about these animals and how human activities may impact their survival.
  2. Zoological parks provide the opportunity to study aspects of polar bear
    biology that would be difficult or impossible to observe in the wild.

  3. In the protected environment of a zoological park, scientists can examine aspects of polar bear biology that are difficult to study in the wild. Areas of study include polar bear reproduction, birth and care of young, physiology, and communication.
  4. Scientists from the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI) have participated in a study on polar bear hearing to gain insight into how polar bears sense their world. Researchers from HSWRI collaborated with San Diego Zoo Conservation Research on this study in which they tested the hearing of polar bears from SeaWorld San Diego and the San Diego Zoo. Four adult female bears and one adult male bear were tested during the study. The project was funded by Polar Bears International.
    • The study generated a u-shaped curve of each bear's hearing frequency (roughly related to pitch) range. This is the first time a polar bear's, or any other large carnivore's, hearing has been tested. The study indicated that polar bears have almost two times the hearing range of an adult human, but less than that of a dog or cat, which have three to four times our range. They probably also hear low pitched sounds better than other carnivores, but these are difficult to study outside a specialized test chamber.
    • The polar bear hearing study aims to address what will happen as humans increasingly come into contact with polar bears as the bears shift their distribution. As sea ice habitat decreases, certain polar bear populations in the Arctic appear to be declining, and polar bears are increasingly shifting their distribution from sea ice to land. This leads to an escalation in encounters with humans. It's important to understand what noises bears can detect in order to come up with mitigation tools to help the bears.
    • Further field studies may be possible with acoustic monitors placed on radio or satellite tagged polar bears, to gather sound data in the wild. One example of a mitigation tool, based on the study, is the potential, near human settlements, to reduce noises that attract polar bears or project sounds that warn them away. In denning areas, impact on female bears could be minimized by reducing noises that disturb the bears, but permitting other types of noise and allowing important industrial activities to proceed. This kind of win-win scenario may give the bears their best chance for survival.

What You Can Do to Help Polar Bears

  1. Drive less or buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle (or both).
    • It seems unbelievable, but it's true: for every gallon of gas you burn, 24 pounds of carbon are released into the atmosphere. Anything you can do to reduce net consumption of fuel will make a significant difference in overall emissions. Reducing emissions of the gases implicated as contributors to climate change may help preserve the Arctic sea ice habitats, which are so important to polar bears.
  2. Use public transportation, fly, walk, or ride your bike.
    • Public transportation and flying are more efficient ways to move people than automobiles. Walking and biking use no fuel at all and are healthful.
  3. Use less water.
    • Every living thing needs water to survive, but this precious resource is finite and in demand. A family of four can save up to 1,000 gallons of water a month by keeping their showers under five minutes. Amount saved by turning off the tap while brushing teeth? 800 gallons a month. Whether washing your car, your dog, or your dishes, use less and use wisely.
  4. Reduce home power consumption.
    • Power usage in buildings accounts for about 40% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere in the U.S. Anything you can do to reduce your power usage will help both you and the environment.
      • Turn off equipment when not in use.
      • Replace old appliances with fuel and water-efficient units.
  5. Support efforts to design efficient homes, communities, and transportation networks.
    • Some of the most important changes can take place at the community, state, or national levels, making it easier for individuals to produce less carbon dioxide. As a taxpayer, voter, or community leader, you can support these efforts.
  6. Support research on wildlife.
    • Appropriate steps cannot be taken to support wildlife without good information. Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute core programs cover all of the research areas essential to good management: Ecology (habitat preferences and population biology), Sensory Ecology and Behavior, Population Health and Physiology, and mitigation of human impact (Aquaculture and fisheries interactions).
  7. Discover the joy of encountering and learning about wildlife.
    • Zoological gardens; community parks; national parks, forests, and wilderness areas; and non-profit organizations offer excellent experiences and education programs. These activities will benefit you as well as wildlife, because they promote physical activity and teach you about economic trends, your environment, your community, and the health of kids and pets.
  8. Learn to recognize the biggest dangers to the living world.
    • The greatest dangers to wild species are habitat destruction (climate change is a special case); spread of invasive species, including introduced predators; population declines due to killing of animals; pollution; and human encroachment.
  9. Use your economic power.
    • Support companies that are easy on the environment, such as retailers that sell certified forest products and seafood, or growers of bird-friendly coffee and organic vegetables.
  10. Use your voting power.
    • Support community, city, state, and national leaders who have taken a strong position on wildlife issues, including climate change which impacts a large number of animals, entire ecosystems, and even humans.