A new government report has found that the Western Hudson Bay polar bear population in Canada has declined by 27 percent in the past 5 years.
What are the key findings of the report?
- Currently, there are 19 polar bear populations spread across Russia, Alaska, Norway, Greenland and Canada.
- The polar bear population in Western Hudson Bay is expected to be among the first to go extinct. The number of polar bears in the region has declined by 11 percent between 2011 and 2016.
- In 2021, the number of cubs produced by the Western Hudson Bay polar bears has fallen, causing concerns about the aging population and increasing vulnerability to melting sea ice.
- Every autumn, polar bears living along the edge of the Western Hudson Bay pass through the sub-Arctic tourist town of Churchill, Manitoba to return to the sea ice. This made the population the most well-studied and famous group in the world, with the bear-viewing economy being valued at 5.30 million USD each year.
- The government study found that currently there are only 618 polar bears remaining in 2021. This is roughly a 50 percent decline from the 1980s population figures.
- The rapid decline is attributed to the climate change. Polar bears rely on the sea ice to hunt. However, since the Arctic is melting four times faster than the rest of the world, seasonal ice in Hudson Bay is melting earlier in the spring and forming later in the fall. This is causing polar bears to starve for longer duration.
- The direct link between the polar bear population decline and the sea ice loss in Hudson Bay is still unclear since four of the past five years have witnessed moderately good ice conditions.
- However, the climate-induced changes in the local seal population might be causing the polar bear population to decline.
- While the number of adult male bears remains the same, there has been a fall in the number of juvenile bears and adult females.