|Polar bears are a potentially threatened (not endangered) species
living in the circumpolar north. They are animals which know no boundaries.
They pad across the ice from Russia to Alaska, from Canada to Greenland
and onto Norway's Svalbard archipelago. No adequate census exists on
which to base a worldwide population estimate, but biologists use a
working figure of perhaps 22,000 to 25,000 bears with about sixty percent
of those living in Canada.
In most sections of the Arctic where estimates are available, polar
bear populations are thought to be stable at present. Counts have been
decreasing in Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait, where about 3,600 bears
are thought to live, but are increasing in the Beaufort Sea, where
there are around 3,000 bears.
In the 1960s and 1970s, polar bears were under such severe survival
pressure that a landmark international accord was reached, despite
the tensions and suspicions of the Cold War. The International Agreement
on the Conservation of Polar Bears was signed in Oslo, November 15,
1973 by the five nations with polar bear populations (Canada, Denmark
which governed Greenland at that time, Norway, the U.S., and the former
The polar bear nations agreed to prohibit random, unregulated sport
hunting of polar bears and to outlaw hunting the bears from aircraft
and icebreakers as had been common practice. The agreement also obliges
each nation to protect polar bear denning areas and migration patterns
and to conduct research relating to the conservation and management
of polar bears. Finally, the nations must share their polar bear research
findings with each other. Member scientists of the Polar Bear Specialist
Group meet every three to four years under the auspices of the IUCN
World Conservation Union to coordinate their research on polar bears
throughout the Arctic.
With the agreement in force, polar bear populations slowly recovered.
The Oslo agreement is one of the first and most successful international
conservation measures enacted in the 21st century.