Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Polar Bears Population And Habitat

Polar Bears Population And Habitat

The polar bear is found throughout the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas. Due to the absence of human development in its remote habitat, it retains more of its original range than any other extant large carnivore. While they are rare north of 88°, there is evidence that they range all the way across the Arctic, and as far south as James Bay in Canada. They can occasionally drift widely with the sea ice, and there have been anecdotal sightings as far south as Berlev├ąg on the Norwegian mainland and the Kuril Islands in the Sea of Okhotsk. It is difficult to estimate a global population of polar bears as much of the range has been poorly studied, however biologists use a working estimate of about 20,000-25,000 polar bears worldwide.

There are 19 generally recognized discrete subpopulations. The subpopulations display seasonal fidelity to particular areas, but DNA studies show that they are not reproductively isolated. The thirteen North American subpopulations range from the Beaufort Sea south to Hudson Bay and east to Baffin Bay in western Greenland and account for about 70% of the global population. The Eurasian population is broken up into the eastern Greenland, Barents Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, and Chukchi Sea subpopulations, though there is considerable uncertainty about the structure of these populations due to limited mark and recapture data.

The range includes the territory of five nations: Denmark (Greenland), Norway (Svalbard), Russia, US (Alaska) and Canada. These five nations are the signatories of the 1973 International Agreement for the Conservation of Polar Bears which mandates cooperation on research and conservations efforts throughout the polar bear's range.

Modern methods of tracking polar bear populations have been implemented only since the mid-1980s, and are expensive to perform consistently over a large area.The most accurate counts require flying a helicopter in the Arctic climate to find polar bears, shooting a tranquilizer dart at the bear to sedate it, and then tagging the bear. In Nunavut, some Inuit have reported increases in bear sightings around human settlements in recent years, leading to a belief that populations are increasing.

Scientists have responded by noting that hungry bears may be congregating around human settlements, leading to the illusion that populations are higher than they actually are. The Polar Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN takes the position that "estimates of subpopulation size or sustainable harvest levels should not be made solely on the basis of traditional ecological knowledge without supporting scientific studies."

Of the 19 recognized polar bear subpopulations, 5 are declining, 5 are stable, 2 are increasing, and 7 have insufficient data.

he polar bear is often regarded as a marine mammal because it spends many months of the year at sea. Its preferred habitat is the annual sea ice covering the waters over the continental shelf and the Arctic inter-island archipelagos. These areas, known as the "Arctic ring of life", have high biological productivity in comparison to the deep waters of the high Arctic.The polar bear tends to frequent areas where sea ice meets water, such as polynyas and leads (temporary stretches of open water in Arctic ice), to hunt the seals that make up most of its diet. Polar bears are therefore found primarily along the perimeter of the polar ice pack, rather than in the Polar Basin close to the North Pole where the density of seals is low.

Annual ice contains areas of water that appear and disappear throughout the year as the weather changes. Seals migrate in response to these changes, and polar bears must follow their prey. In Hudson Bay, James Bay, and some other areas, the ice melts completely each summer (an event often referred to as "ice-floe breakup"), forcing polar bears to go onto land and wait through the months until the next freeze-up. In the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, polar bears retreat each summer to the ice further north that remains frozen year-round.

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