Polar bears in good shape, Inuvialuit hunters say in study

Scientists may be worried about the fate western Arctic polar bears, but estimates made according to Inuvialuit traditional knowledge tell a different story, a new study suggests.

'We don't really believe' current scientific estimate of 900 bears, northerners say

Western Arctic polar bears are doing just fine, according to a new study produced from interviews with 75 hunters. (CBC)

Scientists are worried about the survival of western Arctic polar bears, but estimates made according to Inuvialuit traditional knowledge tell a different story, a new study suggests.

"The new [scientific] estimates for the southern Beaufort is about 900 [bears], but we don't really believe that," said Frank Pokiak, chair of the Inuvialuit Game Council.

The Inuvialuit are the Inuit people of the western Arctic.

Seventy-five hunters from six Inuvialuit communities were interviewed over a three-year period for the study. (CBC)
Traditional knowledge has always shown there are more bears out there than scientists estimate, Pokiak told CBC News: "That's part of the traditional knowledge we wanted to collect."

The study, published by the Wildlife Management Advisory Council, came from interviews with 75 hunters in all six Inuvialuit communities over a three-year period.

It found traditional knowledge holders in the region say the bears are healthy and their population is stable.

These findings don't necessarily mesh with the most recent findings by scientists.

However, the hunters and the scientists agreed about one thing, according to Lindsay Staples, chair of the North Slope arm of the advisory council in Whitehorse — the sea ice is changing.

But that doesn't necessarily mean their extinction looms, he said.

"Polar bears are very adaptable," Staples said, "and it would be very premature to suggest the fate of polar bears is a doomed one."