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WWF: Dramatic Polar Bear Population Decline Underlines Need for Climate Action

A new study released today showing a dramatic decline in polar bears in northeast Alaska and Canada underlines the urgent need for concerted global efforts to address climate change.

The southern Beaufort Sea polar bear subpopulation declined by approximately 40 percent between 2001 and 2010 from 1,500 to 900 bears, according to a paper published online today in Ecological Applications.

The study authors analyzed data on polar bears in northeast Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territories. It associates the population decline with an unprecedented loss of sea ice due to climate change, which reduces polar bear’s access to the seals that are their primary food.

“This is a clear warning sign of the impact a warming Arctic has on ice-dependent species like the polar bear,” said Dr. Pete Ewins, WWF’s Species Conservation Specialist in Canada. “Given this subpopulation is at the edge of the range, it’s no surprise to see this happening so soon. We need to take firm action right now to address climate change, the main threat to polar bears.”

“Here are concrete numbers to show us that the impacts of climate change are happening now,” said Margaret Williams, Managing Director for WWF’s Arctic program in Alaska. “We know human activities have caused global wildlife populations to drop by over half in the last 40 years. We need to change course if we want to stop further habitat loss and ensure resilient wildlife populations, both in the Arctic and around the world.”

The report also shows the importance of continued investment in research--both scientific and local and traditional knowledge--to properly manage polar bear populations and make sound development decisions in the Arctic in the long-term.

Images available here.