Canada’s most southerly polar bear population—that of the Western Hudson Bay polar bear—is easy to count as it passes through the town of Churchill, Manitoba every autumn en route to sea ice.
Canadian government calculations, as reported by Reuters in Arctic News, show a decline in the polar bear population of 27% in a mere five years. Even with the possibility that some of the bears may have moved, “the number of adult male bears has remained more or less the same. What’s driven the decline is a reduced number of juvenile bears and adult females,” said Stephen Atkinson, a wildlife biologist who led the Canadian government’s research.
In addition, the government of the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut reported that only 618 bears remained in 2021, a drop of about 50 percent since the 1980s. A separate count of the bears in 2012 found 1,013 individuals, said the Nunatsiaq News, noting that local hunters harvest a few dozen polar bears a year.
The plunging polar bear numbers have been attributed to climate change, particularly to melting sea ice. Sea ice allows the bears to hunt seals by lurking over seal breathing holes. Arctic News reports that Hudson Bay seasonal sea ice is melting out earlier in spring and forming later in autumn, forcing bears to go hungry for longer periods of time.