Polar bear population status in the northern Beaufort Sea, Canada, 1971-2006

Ecological Applications
By: , and 

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Abstract

Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) of the northern Beaufort Sea (NB) population occur on the perimeter of the polar basin adjacent to the northwestern islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Sea ice converges on the islands through most of the year. We used open-population capture–recapture models to estimate population size and vital rates of polar bears between 1971 and 2006 to: (1) assess relationships between survival, sex and age, and time period; (2) evaluate the long-term importance of sea ice quality and availability in relation to climate warming; and (3) note future management and conservation concerns. The highest-ranking models suggested that survival of polar bears varied by age class and with changes in the sea ice habitat. Model-averaged estimates of survival (which include harvest mortality) for senescent adults ranged from 0.37 to 0.62, from 0.22 to 0.68 for cubs of the year (COY) and yearlings, and from 0.77 to 0.92 for 2–4 year-olds and adults. Horvtiz-Thompson (HT) estimates of population size were not significantly different among the decades of our study. The population size estimated for the 2000s was 980 ± 155 (mean and 95% CI). These estimates apply primarily to that segment of the NB population residing west and south of Banks Island. The NB polar bear population appears to have been stable or possibly increasing slightly during the period of our study. This suggests that ice conditions have remained suitable and similar for feeding in summer and fall during most years and that the traditional and legal Inuvialuit harvest has not exceeded sustainable levels. However, the amount of ice remaining in the study area at the end of summer, and the proportion that continues to lie over the biologically productive continental shelf (<300 m water depth) has declined over the 35-year period of this study. If the climate continues to warm as predicted, we predict that the polar bear population in the northern Beaufort Sea will eventually decline. Management and conservation practices for polar bears in relation to both aboriginal harvesting and offshore industrial activity will need to adapt.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Polar bear population status in the northern Beaufort Sea, Canada, 1971-2006
Series title Ecological Applications
DOI 10.1890/10-0849.1
Volume 21
Issue 3
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center
Description 18 p.
First page 859
Last page 876
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N