Marine Mammals Management
Alaska Region


Polar Bear

Population History

HunterFrom the first encounters with indigenous hunters of the Arctic and the earliest explorers, polar bears have captured the attention of Arctic residents and visitors. Polar bears have been and continue to be an important renewable resource for coastal communities throughout northern Alaska. Polar bears provide a source of meat and raw materials for handicrafts, including functional clothing such as mittens, boots (mukluks), parka ruffs and pants. Polar bears and polar bear hunting were an important part of earlier religions, myths and legends, and continue to play an important role in the Inupiat and Yupik cultures; polar bear hunting is a source of pride, prestige, and accomplishment.

Prior to passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), polar bears in Alaska were reduced by excessive hunting. The MMPA now prohibits polar bear hunting except by Alaska Natives for subsistence and handicraft purposes. Harvest monitoring has been conducted since 1980.

Polar Bear VillagesToday, residents from 14 villages actively hunt polar bears; the level of hunting effort varies by village and by year. The Alaska Nanuuq Commission was established in 1994 to represent Native interests regarding polar bears. In addition, a small bear viewing tourism industry is developing in some coastal communities. Oil and gas development started on the North Slope around 1969. Operators work closely with the FWS to ensure that their activities have minimal impact on polar bears or their habitat.



Last updated: September 10, 2008