Stories
© Debra Garside
Protecting the ice bear

Polar bear N26358, a.k.a Lumi, one of the bears you can find on our tracker, has been in a den in Svalbard since early winter. Polar bears don’t hibernate during the winter months, but pregnant female bears dig dens in the snow to rest and give birth to cubs, usually in December. We won’t know if Lumi has given birth until March or April. This is when females and their cubs typically come out of their dens.

Spring is a particularly important time for polar bears. Polar bear mothers emerge hungry from their snow dens with their young cubs after fasting for four months. They need to hunt and replenish their energy quickly so they can continue to nurse their cubs.

But as climate change continues to warm the Arctic, sea ice melts earlier in the summer and forms later in the fall. Polar bears like Lumi have less time than they used to to hunt and build-up their fat reserves.

Their favourite meals are ringed and bearded seals. Polar bears survive on seal fat. The average bear ideally consumes two kilograms of fat per day. Bears put on most of their yearly fat reserves between late April and mid-July to maintain their weight throughout the rest of the year.

Polar bears need sea ice to hunt and reach seals. Seals spend most of their lives on sea ice. Polar bears have an exceptional sense of smell and it allows them to locate seals in the ice. Bears will often wait patiently by breathing holes until a seal pokes its head out.

© WWF/Sindre Kinnerød
© Steve Morello/WWF

No ice, no ice bear

Last year, the The IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) outlined the drastic changes facing the Arctic as a result of the climate crisis. This includes declining and thinning sea ice. The report states that approximately half of the observed sea ice loss is attributed to increased amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

With sea ice disappearing, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says there is a high probability that the global polar bear population will decline by more than 30 per cent by 2050.

Some people are going to say leave the bears alone, this is natural. I think it’s totally unnatural. Climate change as we’re seeing it is not natural.

- Andrew Derocher, a biologist and polar bear expert at the University of Alberta.

© James Morgan/WWF-UK

What happens if there’s no sea ice?

© Kean MOYNIHAN/WWF-Canada

Without sea ice polar bears like Lumi need to find other sources of food. This can lead them into communities, where garbage dumps, sled dog yards and human food storage make for quick and easy meals. Bears in communities often create conflict and threaten the safety of people.

Help protect polar bears

WWF is working regionally and internationally to understand how polar bears are coping with climate change and advocating for governments to recognize and mitigate the effects of a changing Arctic on the bears.

We support the identification and protection of important polar bear habitats, such as denning areas for female polar bears. Tracking polar bears like Lumi, helps us understand the impact that climate change and other threats are having on different polar bear populations across the Arctic. We are also working to create safer communities and support locally led initiatives to reduce conflict between people and bears.

Polar bears and other species that depend on sea ice are the focus of many of our conservation projects in the Arctic. You can help by donating to our conservation work today.