The World of Polar Bears


A. First International Scientific Meeting on the Polar Bear, 1965

Growing public concern about polar bear hunting and other human activities in the Arctic, such as oil exploration, led to the First International Scientific Meeting on the Polar Bear in 1965. Attending were representatives from all five polar bear countries: Canada, Greenland (territory of Denmark), Norway, the United States, and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The meeting set the stage for additional international conferences and research efforts, which eventually led to an international agreement on polar bear conservation.

B. The International Agreement on Conservation of Polar Bears and Their Habitat, 1973

  1. This agreement states that the five polar bear nations (Canada, Greenland, Norway, the United States, and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) shall protect polar bear habitat, especially denning areas, feeding areas, and migratory routes; ban hunting of bears from aircraft and large motorized boats; conduct and coordinate management and research efforts; and exchange research results and data.
  2. The agreement allows the taking of polar bears for scientific purposes, for preventing serious disturbances in the management of other resources, for use by local people using traditional methods and exercising traditional rights, and for protection of life and property.
  3. Each nation has voluntarily established its own regulations and conservation practices using the knowledge gained from the international community as a whole.

C. United States Marine Mammal Protection Act, 1972

  1. Polar bears are protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
  2. The primary objective of the MMPA is to maintain the health and stability of the marine ecosystem and to obtain and maintain an optimum sustainable population of marine mammals.
  3. The MMPA prohibits taking and importing marine mammals unless a permit is issued for the purposes of public display, native subsistence, scientific research, or sustaining a depleted species. MMPA revisions in 1994 allow U.S. citizens to import polar bear “trophies” acquired in Canadian hunts. Polar bears in Alaska can be hunted only by Alaskan natives.

D. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

In 1975, the polar bear was placed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Appendix II includes species identified as threatened, or likely to become endangered if trade isn’t regulated. International trade of polar bears, or their parts, is permitted with proper documentation issued by the government of the exporting country.

E. International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources/World Conservation Union

  1. The IUCN/World Conservation Union is a worldwide conservation organization. This organization links together government agencies, non-government agencies, and independent states to encourage a worldwide approach to conservation.
  2. The Polar Bear Specialist group works under the guidance of the IUCN/World Conservation Union’s Species Survival Commission. This group helps to coordinate and identify the management and research efforts of the five polar bear nations (Canada, Greenland, Norway, the United States, and Russia).
  3. The IUCN/World Conservation Union categorizes animal species they feel are threatened. The polar bear is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN/World Conservation Union. This means the species is likely to move into the endangered category if the negative factors affecting the population continue at their present rate.

F. Zoological parks

  1. Having polar bears at zoological parks provides the opportunity for the public to learn about these animals and how human activities may impact their survival.
  2. In the protected environment of a zoological park, scientists can examine aspects of polar bear biology that are difficult to study in the wild. Areas of study include polar bear reproduction, birth and care of young, physiology, and communication.