Marine Mammals Management
Alaska Region


Polar Bear

Polar bears are the largest carnivores and a unique symbol of the Arctic. Nineteen populations of polar bears are distributed in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia. The world wide population is estimated to be 22,000-25,000 bears. Two populations occur in Alaska: the southern Beaufort Sea stock, shared with Canada; and the Bering Chukchi/Seas stock, shared with the Russian Federation (Range Map)

In Alaska, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) protects polar bears by prohibiting "take" of polar bears. The MMPA provides for specific exceptions to the prohibition on taking, including a provision that allows Alaska Natives to hunt polar bears for subsistence and the creation of handicrafts.

Worldwide, polar bear populations remain relatively stable; however, climate change, contamination of the Arctic environment, potential over-harvest, and increasing human development in polar bear habitat pose conservation challenges for polar bears.

In December 2006, the Service published a status assessment. Information in the assessment was used to form the 12-month finding, which was that listing the polar bear was warranted.

Final Rule Listing the Polar Bear as a Threatened Species Under the Endangered Species Act

On May 15, 2008, the Service published a Final Rule in the Federal Register listing the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This listing is based on the best available science, which shows that loss of sea ice threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar bear habitat. Any significant changes in the abundance, distribution, or existence of sea ice will have effects on the number and behavior of these animals and their prey. This loss of habitat puts polar bears at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future, the standard established by the ESA for designating a threatened species.

Final Polar Bear Special Rule and Environmental Assessment

On February 20, 2013, the Service published a Final Special Rule for the polar bear that established how protections under the Endangered Species Act would be applied.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile

Conservation Management Plan

The Service has assembled a diverse team of stakeholders, known as the Polar Bear Recovery Team, to draft a Conservation Management Plan for polar bears. The Service is planning to make the draft plan available for public review and comment in November 2014.

For more information, contact the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Marine Mammals Management office at 1-800-362-5148.

Polar Bear. Susanne Miller/USFWS. Click to enlarge.

Last updated: November 7, 2014