Polar bears are facing numerous conservation challenges, including the melting of sea ice due to climate change, which reduces their habitat and food sources, as well as human activities such as hunting, oil and gas development, and industrial activities in the Arctic that increase the risk of exposure to pollutants and toxic substances. These challenges, along with the potential introduction of new predators and competition for food due to climate change, pose a significant threat to the survival of the polar bear population.
The official website for the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission
The mission of the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) is to coordinate, synthesize, and distribute scientific information necessary to guide the long-term viability of polar bears and their habitats. Among other roles, the PBSG serves as the scientific advisory body to the polar bear Range States in support of the 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears. The PBSG identifies research, management, and conservation priorities for polar bears and their habitats, and disseminates this information to policy makers and the public.
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Credit: Dennis Stogsdil
What is the PBSG?
We're a group of professionals who specialise in the research and management of polar bears throughout their range.
The Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) is composed of skilled and dedicated professionals who volunteer their scientific expertise to help conserve polar bears and advance the goals of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). As we enter the next quadrennial cycle of the IUCN, we are privileged to have been elected co-chairs of the PBSG.
The mission of the PBSG is to coordinate, synthesize, and distribute scientific information needed to protect the long‐term viability of polar bears and their habitats. The group’s work is as important now as it was in the 1960s when the PBSG was established. Scientific research, improved harvest management, and the 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears have addressed some threats to polar bears. However, new threats have emerged, with the primary challenge to polar bear conservation in the 21st century being the loss of sea ice due to climate warming, combined with other anthropogenic stressors.
Mitigating climate warming and its effects on polar bears will require sustained individual and global action. The PBSG will continue with collaborative scientific research and synthesis that is needed to inform polar bear management and conservation by the IUCN, the five Polar Bear Range States (Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia and USA), regional management authorities, and the people that live in polar bear country.
Dr. Nick Lunn and Dr. Kristin Laidre
PBSG co-chairs 2021 – 2024
The PBSG is comprised of up to 35 members appointed based on their direct and relevant expertise in polar bear research, management, conservation, or education. Members come from government agencies, academic institutions, and not-for-profit organizations.
The PBSG strives to provide the best possible scientific and technical information on polar bears to both policymakers and the public. The Group provides scientific advice with regard to the IUCN Red List, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and other international and national conventions.
PBSG members provide independent expertise to the Group, which strives towards consensus in making decisions. Collectively, the Group provides independent scientific advice to the five polar bear Range States in support of the 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears.
Learn more about the scientific methods employed by polar bear researchers throughout the Panarctic...
Capturing bears allows for the collection of biological samples and measurements of physical stature and condition, and repeating this provides estimation of vital rates like reproduction and survival.
Where mark-recapture is not logistically practical, line-transect surveys from helicopters can be used to estimate polar bear population sizes to assess the survival rates of different subpopulations.
Fatty acid signature analysis is a technique used to examine the feeding habits of polar bears. It is based on the knowledge that chemical components of food are incorporated into polar bear tissue.
Because direct observations of polar bear feeding behaviour are usually impossible, we use stable isotope analysis to provide important insights into what polar bears are eating in various regions.
We work with traditional Inuit hunters to opportunitistically study heavy metals in polar bear muscle, liver and kidney, as well as hair and blood, as a result of environmental pollution across the Arctic.
VHF and satellite-linked radio tags have been crucial in polar bear research, enabling detailed tracking of their movements and habitat use, and playing a key role in understanding their ecology and behavioural patterns.
Genetic studies in polar bears offer crucial insights into their adaptation and evolution, using advanced techniques like microsatellites and SNPs to analyze population dynamics and individual traits.
Click on any method to learn more
Credit: Kristin Laidre
leading threats to polar bears
Polar bears are totally reliant on sea ice as their primary habitat in the Arctic. Increased temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns have both affected sea ice extents, forcing bears to alter feeding regimes and further rely on stored fats.
Credit: Sepp Friedhuber
Increases in human activities in the Arctic are likely to result in environmental risks to polar bears, including fragmentation of and displacement from critical habitats, exposures to oil and increased likelihood of human-polar bear conflict.
Credit: Michael Ewen
Harvest is an ongoing concern for many polar bear populations, particularly in areas where there is no information on the population size. Managers and researchers are working hard to ensure that all polar bear harvest is done is a sustainable manner.
Credit: Kristin Laidre
As apex predators, polar bears are exposed to high levels of pollutants that are magnified with each step higher in the food web. The pollutants of most concern are organochlorines that were historically used in industry or as pesticides.
Credit: Alex Potemkin
The global trend of human encroachment is intensifying human-wildlife conflicts, impacting wildlife behavior and local communities. Increasing conflicts between humans and polar bears necessitates research into mitigation strategies.
Credit: Daniel J Cox
Our latest Status Report
In October 2023, we released our latest status report on the world’s polar bear subpopulations. It includes estimated subpopulation sizes and associated uncertainty in those estimates, subpopulation trends, changes in sea-ice habitat, recent human-caused mortality, and summaries of subpopulation-specific concerns and vulnerabilities.
The full report and latest status table can be downloaded as a combined document below.
Credit: Anatoly Kochnev
Credit: Anatoly Kochnev
Credit: Anatoly Kochnev
Credit: Andrew Derocher
Use the click, pan and zoom functions on the interactive map to find out more about the polar bear subpopulations.
Credit: Kt Miller
A range of literature about polar bears, including PBSG meeting proceedings and reports.
Here you will find a curated list of polar bear-related links and materials from other websites.
Find the answers to some of our most common polar bear questions here, written by the experts themselves.
PBSG acknowledges the valued contributions made to polar bear research by members Markus Dyck (1966 – 2021), Gerald Garner (1944 – 1998), Nils Are Øritsland (1939 – 2006), Malcolm Ramsay (1949 – 2000) and Savva Uspenski (1920 – 1996).