Technology & Science

Rethink polar bear hunt quotas, scientists tell Nunavut hunters

polar bears, circumpolar, hunt, Scott Schliebe, Polar Bear Specialist Group

Scientists from five circumpolar countries have boosted the status of polar bears to vulnerable on an international list signalling species at risk.

Researchers with the Polar Bear Specialist Group say the Arctic is shrinking and the world's largest terrestrial carnivore is at risk.

The group, created after countries including Canada, Norway and the United States signed an international agreement in the 1970s to conserve polar bears, says changing ice conditions and pollution making its way to the Arctic are taking their toll on polar bears.

It says the threat is so grave that in the next 50 years the world's polar bear population will likely drop by more than 30 per cent.

"We're seeing some fairly significant reductions in the actual area that pack ice occupies in the Arctic, and we're seeing some thinning in the thickness of the ice," said Scott Schliebe, a member of the Polar Bear Specialist Group who is based in Anchorage, Alaska.

The scientists say polar bears are vulnerable because of their changing world, and that circumpolar countries should exercise caution before boosting their hunting quotas. Until now, the group ranked polar bears as a species of least concern.

They said any decisions should be based on both traditional knowledge and scientific studies.

The group wants Nunavut to reconsider its recent increase in polar bear quotas.

Most notably, it's calling for a decrease this year in the hunt in western Hudson Bay.

Scientists such as Schliebe say the population there is lower than originally believed.

"We would like those levels to be adjusted to the current population abundance estimate, 950 animals, and we would like the adjustment to be calculated as sustainable over time," said Schliebe.

As sea ice breaks up earlier in western Hudson Bay, young bears have less time to feed and store the fat they need to survive on shore before the ice refreezes.

The group also said too many polar bears are being killed in Chukotka, Russia, and in Greenland.

They say both regions should get their hunts under control.