Polar bear
© WWF-US / Elisabeth Kruger
Polar bear population

How many polar bears are there?

Current polar bear populations

22-31,000
polar bears worldwide, estimated
Source: IUCN (How is this range calculated?)

19
distinct sub-populations

60-80%
of polar bears are in Canada

Status by country
  • International: Vulnerable
  • Canada: Special Concern
  • Greenland / Denmark: Vulnerable
  • Norway: Vulnerable
  • Russia: Indeterminate, Rare, or Recovering, depending on population
  • United States: Threatened
polar bear population

Timeline of polar bear conservation

Before 1973

Several polar bear populations were decimated by unsustainable hunting by European, Russian and American hunters and trappers from the 1600s right through to the mid-1970's.

1973

Canada, the United States, Denmark, Norway and the former USSR signed the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat, strictly regulating commercial hunting.

The US Government classified the Polar Bear under its Endangered Species Act (ESA).

2005

The polar bear was upgraded from Least Concern to Vulnerable by the the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group.

2013

Ministers and other leaders from the five polar bear range states met in Moscow for the first International Forum on Polar Bear Conservation. The leaders made significant commitments to address issues of polar bear habitat, research and trade. This event was supported by WWF.

Today

Today, polar bears are among the few large carnivores that are still found in roughly their original habitat and range--and in some places, in roughly their natural numbers.

Although most of the world's 19 populations have returned to healthy numbers, there are differences between them. Some are stable, some seem to be increasing, and some are decreasing due to various pressures.

Status of the polar bear populations
Last updated 2017 with data from the IUCN Polar Bear Specialists Group

  • 1 population was in decline
  • 2 populations were increasing
  • 7 populations were stable
  • 9 populations were data-deficient (information missing or outdated)
  • Some populations are still hunted quite heavily, and their status is uncertain.

In the future

By 2040, scientists predict that only a fringe of ice will remain in Northeast Canada and Northern Greenland when all other large areas of summer ice are gone. This "Last Ice Area" is likely to become important for polar bears and other life that depends on ice.

Polar Bears and the Numbers Game

There used to be an estimated 20,000 – 25,000 polar bears, but that estimate has been updated to 22,000 – 31,000. Does this mean there are more polar bears now? Probably not - we just have more precise information to estimate the number of bears globally.

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