In unsurprising news, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released a report declaring polar bear populations in and around Alaska are declining. The main areas touched upon in the report were the Beaufort Sea, the Chukchi Sea and the Bering Sea.
Currently, the polar bear is listed as an endangered species in the United States and categorized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as vulnerable. There are believed to be twenty to twenty-five thousand polar bears worldwide. Polar bear populations grew after the 1972 hunting ban in the U.S., hunting which decimated polar bear numbers. However, in recent years the polar bear numbers have been in decline.
In the Bering and Chukchi Seas, polar bear numbers have decreased more dramatically due to a greater melting of sea ice. These areas are also the location for the illegal Russian polar bear hunts that occur each year.
This poaching has been brought on by demands for bear hides and is estimated to kill anywhere between 150 and 250 bears a year. However, the report indicates that the exact numbers are hard to pinpoint, but are certainly compounding the population declines.
Annual population declines between 2001 and 2007 in the Beaufort Sea was 0.3 percent. The total population in this area is estimated to be around 1,397 to 1,526 bears. Studies relating to the Chukchi and Bering Seas have been more difficult as it crosses the border, however, population estimates are around 2,000 bears.