The polar bear population is divided into 19 discrete subpopulations. The global population is poorly studied partly because polar bears have a territory too wide to cover. White bears are not territorial which is why they are present in isolated population in some remote areas. The question as to how many polar bears are left in the world is still unanswered. However global estimates of a population suggest that there are around 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears remaining in the natural habitat.
How Many Polar Bears are Left in the World?
The North American population is divided into 13 subpopulations. They live in the Beaufort Sea, Hudson Bay, Western Greenland, and Baffin Bay. The polar bear population in the North America represents 54% of the global population worldwide.
Arctic bears have circumpolar distribution—living in far off habitats with small populations of about 150 to 200 individuals.
The sea-ice keeps moving all year round and so as polar bears. The seasonal variation in weather forces bears to adopt a non-territorial behavior. As it turns out, white bears have circumpolar distribution—living in far off habitats with small populations of about 150 to 200 individuals. Another reason for such a vast territory is that adult males must go and find their reproductive partner each year. If they stay in a limited range they won’t be able to reproduce.
Read More: Are Polar Bears Endangered?
Polar Bear Status Worldwide
While polar bears are classified as threatened species in much of its range the average total population is 20,000 to 25,000 with some believe that numbers may rise up to 31,000 worldwide. The absolute status is not known since bears are unevenly distributed in the Arctic Circle.
Read More: Polar Bear Conservation Status
The Chukchi Sea population is estimated to show a declining trend because many polar bears were subject to overharvest in the last 20 years. It’s not possible to assess the population status of six populations (out of 19).
East Greenland Population
In the East Greenland (EG) polar bears are found in the Greenland Sea including Fram Strait. Studies however suggest that the population size increases and decreases (each year) in the East Greenland. The bears in Greenland are less likely to migrate to the eastern Svalbard.
Read More: Are there Polar Bears in Greenland?
According to the 2003 estimate, there are around 2,000 polar bears living in the southwestern and eastern Greenland but biologists have observed 70 bears to take the population statistics.
Barents Sea population
In 2004 the estimated population of bears was around 3,000 which were way too high as compared to the previous ten years. Study suggests that the increase in population size in Barents Sea was mainly due to the ban on hunting in 1973. Furthermore bears in the Svalbard are less likely to migrate whereas those living in the Barents Sea are known to move between Franz Joseph Land and Svalbard.
In 2004 the estimated population of bears was around 3,000 which were way too high as compared to the previous ten years. Study suggests that the increase in population size in Barents Sea was mainly due to the ban on hunting in 1973.
Some of the adults in the Kara Sea are thought to overlap with the population size of Barents Sea. Nonetheless, the population of Barents Sea and East Greenland rarely interact with each other. The overall polar bear population has increased because of an absolute ban on hunting in Russia in 1956 and in Norway in 1973.
Scientists are not able to estimate the population size in the Kara Sea in fact they are quite concerned with the environmental pollution of the Arctic in the Kara Sea. Recent studies indicate that the Kara Sea population is more susceptible to pollution than any other population in the Arctic.
Laptev Sea population
In the Laptev Sea polar bears are spread along the western tip of the East Siberian Sea occupying much of the Laptev Sea as well as Severnaya Zemlya islands and Novosibirsk islands. There are around 800 to 1,200 polar bears living in the Laptev Sea. The population mainly consists of adult female bears because they often visit Novosibirsk islands for denning.
Chukchi Sea population
The population size in the Chukchi Sea is known to bears of the northern Bering to as far east as East Siberian Seas. On the western side bears breed along the northeastern Russia in the Chaunskaya Bay. The eastern population is found in Alaska.
The population status in the Chukchi Sea is either not stable or declining. The harvesting of bears was banned in 1972. The harvesting was reduced to one half in the 90s in Alaska. The bears are partly affected by the climate change and partly by the industrial development.
Southern Beaufort Sea population
The southern Beaufort Sea is a range that touches Alaska and a significant portion of Canada. There is an isolated population of polar bears living in the western Alaska and eastern Canada. The unreliable estimate of population in the Southern Beaufort Sea is 1,800. Latest reliable estimates are likely to surface in the coming years.
Studies show that 1,500 – 1,800 polar bears are surviving in the Icy Cape and Pearce Point. Still scientists believe that the current size might be smaller than these estimates. Prey is not easily available in the Beaufort Sea which might lead to cannibalism in polar bears. Thus the population size decreases with the behavioral shifts.
Viscount Melville Sound population
The Viscount Melville Sound is regarded as the arm of the Arctic as it joins several islands ranging from Victoria Island through Barrow Strait all the way to the Beaufort Sea. The present population estimate in the Viscount Melville Sound is 200 to 215 many of which are adult females.
Norwegian Bay population
The Norwegian Bay lies in the Canadian region of the Arctic Ocean. Observation suggests that polar bears live along the coastal ridges and tide cracks. Unfortunately bears in the Norwegian Bay are less likely to prey on ringed seals because the sea-ice is too thick to penetrate. As a result polar bears occur in fewer numbers.
M’Clintock Channel population
The M’Clintock Channel is the arm of the Arctic Ocean in Canada (Nunavut). The channel was previously home to 900 – 1,000 polar bears in the mid-1970s however the current estimate decreased to 700 individuals.
Gulf of Boothia population
The population size in the Gulf of Boothia was around 333 back in 1970s. The numbers have significantly increased since the last counting. The current estimate is nearly three times the size of population in 70s. Studies show that there are around 900 – 1,523 polar bears living in the Gulf of Boothia.
Foxe Basin population
The Foxe Basin population of polar bears lies in the western Hudson Strait and northern Hudson Bay. Bears occur in high densities in the Southampton Island as well as on the Wager Bay during the warmer months. The population estimated in 1996 according to which around 2,119 individuals remaining on the islands. This showed a decrease in size from the mid-70s population. In the early 1970s polar bears’ population were 3,000 but 20 years later 900 polar bears were dead—showing 30% decline. The latest estimates in 2004 showed a marked increase with 2,300 bears inhabiting the Foxe Basin.
Western Hudson Bay population
The population size in the Hudson Bay population has long been recognized by the researchers. It is one of the best understood population area of polar bears. Biologists have been able to study more than 80% of adult bears in the western Hudson Bay.
During warmer months the western population appears to live apart from the southern Hudson Bay population. In winter, however the northern, southern, and western Hudson Bay population seems to concentrate on the ice packs. As a result it becomes difficult to isolate one population from other because all of them are so mixed that they seem like population size.
In 1987 the polar bear population were 1,194 but in the next 17 years the numbers declined by 22%. The estimates in 2004 showed that only 935 remaining in the western Hudson Bay. The population consists of adult females 65% and adult males 35%.
Southern Hudson Bay population
The last estimate of the size of population indicates that there are 900 – 1,000 polar bears inhabiting the southern Hudson Bay. Scientists aren’t sure but they believe that there might be a slight increase in population as compared to previous years.
Kane Basin population
The Kane Basin is a waterway and it is located between Ellesmere Islands (Canada) and Greenland. The 180-km-long Arctic waterway is home to only a few polar bears. The estimates of a population in 1994 – 1997 showed that there were fewer than 164 adult bears surviving. The current estimate might be much less than these figures. The Greenland hunters are likely to be reasons of population decline. In Kane Basin 10 polar bears are killed on an average each year.
Baffin Bay population
The previous estimates of the bear’s population in mid-80s were 300 – 600 individuals. Recent estimates are probably not reliable because scientists have observed that most polar bears move towards the offshore (in March and April) during spring—making it hard to count. Nonetheless, the later work which was carried in September showed the current size of about 2,074 polar bears.
Davis Strait population
The polar bears inhabiting Davis Strait are widely distributed on the eastern Hudson Strait, Labrador Sea, southern Baffin Bay, as well as on the pack ice of the Cape Dyer. The correct estimates were provided by the Canadian Polar Bear Technical Committee in 1993. The Committee suggested the estimate size of about 1,400 polar bears. The figures showed an increase because the survey also included bears that were living offshore pack ice. However the population estimates taken in 2004 counted 1,650 bears in the Davis Strait.