How many polar bears roam East Greenland? | Polarjournal
Female polar bear with two cubs. Photo: Michael Wenger

The Greenland Institute of Natural Resources has been conducting the first ever polar bear census in East Greenland since March this year. It is the largest census in history.

Since March 22, 2023, international experts count polar bears that live between 64° North in Southeast Greenland and Peary Land in the northernmost part of Greenland from aircrafts. The count will continue until the beginning of May.

Getting a reliable overview of a region’s polar bear population is no easy feat. Therefore, this large census required years of careful planning and preparation. “We started a survey in the winter of 2014-2015, asking hunters to identify the best areas and times to survey polar bears,” Fernando Ugarte, head of the Department of Mammals and Birds at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, said in a news release.

The experts then equipped polar bears with satellite transmitters over six field seasons to get an idea of their distribution and movement patterns across the vast study area: Polar bears in southeast Greenland were surveyed in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and in northeast Greenland in 2018, 2019 and 2022. “Because of COVID-19, we were delayed by two years, so the last polar bears were not recorded until 2022 instead of 2020,” Ugarte said.

Greenlanders remain dependent on the natural resources of their homeland, including polar bears. Photo: Julia Hager

Observers participating in the count are from Greenland, Denmark, the United States, Norway and Canada. Among the observers are hunters from Tasiilaq, Kulusuk and Ittoqqortoormiit.

Polar bears are the face of climate change and they are already suffering significantly from its effects. The utilization of polar bears by Greenlanders, who have always lived in harmony with the polar bears and have also relied on them, should therefore only be done in a sustainable way. The results of the census will serve as the basis for recommendations on sustainable use and human activity planning, and will improve understanding of the impacts of climate change, according to the release.

The individual polar bear sub-populations and their approximate size. Map: WWF Canada

It is estimated that there are 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears in 19 sub-populations throughout the Arctic. The largest known populations, with 2,500 to 3,000 individuals each, live in the Baffin Bay area (West Greenland and Baffin Island), Foxe Basin, Lancaster Sound, the Chukchi Sea, and the Barents Sea. A small sub-population in the Kane Basin between Canada’s Ellesmere Island and northwest Greenland is actually growing, according to the IUCN. The size of sub-populations in the Arctic Ocean, Laptev Sea, and Kara Sea is still unknown.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

Featured image: Michael Wenger

More on the subject:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
error: Content is protected !!
Share This