Endangered Species
Alaska Region   


Polar bear (Ursus maritimus)

Designation: Threatened

The Polar bear is the largest member of the bear family.  They are specialized carnivores that feed primarily on ringed seals, but they will also hunt other seals, walrus, and whales. Females dig dens in the snow in winter to give birth to their cubs in a protected environment. Males remain active throughout the winter.

Critical Habitat: Approximately 187,000 square miles within Alaska and adjacent Territorial and U.S. waters are designated as critical habitat.  Elements of critical habitat that are essential are sea ice, terrestrial denning habitat, and barrier island habitat.
Distribution: Polar bears are found throughout the ice-covered waters surrounding the North Pole and the adjacent coastal lands. 

Threats:  Loss of sea ice is the primary threat to polar bear.  Sea ice provides a platform that polar bears use for hunting, traveling, breeding, and resting; it provides habitat for its primary prey, ringed seals; and it provides a vast area where historically, interactions with humans were minimal.  Interactions with humans, which are likely to increase with the loss of sea ice, can have negative consequences for polar bears.  
Conservation efforts:  A recovery planning effort is currently underway.  Efforts to effectively address the effects of climate change and sea ice loss will require international cooperation and long-term planning.  In the near-term, polar bear conservation efforts will focus on minimizing the direct impact of humans on polar bears.

Contact: Terry DeBruyn

For more information see:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile
Region 7’s Marine Mammals Management website for polar bears
IUCN/SSC Polar bear specialist group website
USGS polar bear research
Photo gallery
Fact sheet


Last updated: June 1, 2012