Threats to Polar Bears Have Shifted Over the Last 40 Years

Written by on December 11, 2013 in Policy & Ocean Law

The meeting of the parties to the 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears was held last week (Dec 5-6 2013) in Moscow.

Polar bears.

Polar bears. Photo credit: ucumari via photopin cc.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, which was concluded in Olso, Norway, on November 15, 1973. It is an agreement to protect polar bears and their ecosystems, in addition to the role that polar bears play in cultural and traditional life of indigenous people of the Arctic. The parties to the Agreement include the five polar bear Range States: Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia and the United States of America.

Representatives from the Range States gathered last week to celebrate the success of the Agreement and to recognize emerging challenges for polar bears. The threats polar bears face now are much different than the threats they faced when the Agreement was signed. Forty years ago, over-hunting and illegal trade were the primary concerns but now climate change tops the list.

Highlights of the meeting:

  • Climate change was cited as the biggest concern for polar bears today, but some environmentalists cautioned against ignoring other threats.
  • Russia’s Natural Resources and Environment Minister¬†Sergei Donskoi believes poaching is the biggest threat in Russia.
  • Masha Vorontsova, from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) called for a complete ban on polar bear trade.
  • Canadian Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq tweeted a photo of a freshly killed polar bear with the caption “Enjoy!!” while at the meeting, creating lots of controversy. (Seriously. That actually happened. I won’t include the tweet because the photo isn’t so pleasant, but you can see it here on her page, posted Dec 5.)
  • Currently, there are 19 specially protected Arctic zones where polar bears live. Donskoi promised that the Natural Resources Environment Ministry will work to create more protected zones.
  • The Range States agreed to take into account the Arctic’s shrinking ice when managing the polar bear’s habitat.

The Range States signed a Declaration, reaffirming their commitment to work for the conservation of polar bears in the 21st century and they agreed to meet again in 2015 to sign a specific action plan for polar bear conservation.

Polar bear on Arctic ice.

Polar bear on Arctic ice. Photo credit: Kathy Crane, NOAA.

To learn more:

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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