What to do if you find a dead polar bear

Recovering the carcass of a polar bear that has died recently of natural causes provides an important opportunity to aid in monitoring the health of polar bear populations. For example, a tooth extracted from the polar bear allows scientists to estimate the animal's age, while marrow from a leg bone can be used to assess body condition and health. 

If you find a polar bear carcass or partial remains, please contact our Marine Mammals Management office in Anchorage at: (800): 362-5148. You will be asked to provide the following information about the animal, and, if possible, take photographs and collect the skull and femur (biggest front leg bone):

  • location where the carcass was found (GPS location, if possible)
  • estimated length, girth (circumference), and weight
  • sex and age class (cub of the year, yearling, sub-adult, or adult)
  • body condition* (see below)
  • presence of ear tags, collar, or other identifying features
  • possible cause of death (e.g., open wounds, scars, broken bones)
  • estimated time of death (less than or more than 24 hours)

It's especially valuable to biologists to quickly obtain samples from animals that are frozen or have died within 24 hours. If you find a polar bear that is frozen or has died within 24 hours, please call us immediately. We will arrange for samples to be shipped to Anchorage. The carcass is less than 24 hours old if:

  • it's intact and not scavenged
  • the eyes are present and not wrinkled or shrunken
  • no foul odor or dark brown/black fluids are leaking from the carcass
  • the fur does not pull free in clumps when grasped
  • no maggots or fly eggs are on or under the body

Thank you for your assistance. Your help in collecting this information is very important and much appreciated!

*Body Condition (this is a standardized fatness index)

  • Skinny = skinny emaciated appearance; vertebrae, ribs, and hip bones externally visible without palpation; no fat palpable between skin and muscle over the dorsal body, hips, or lower rump
  • Thin = vertebrae and hip bones (but not ribs) partially visible, easily palpable under the skin; little/no fat between skin and muscle over the back; small amounts of fat detectable on lower rump. 
  • Average = normal healthy appearance; vertebrae/hip bones not visible; upper 1/3 to 1/2 of the spinal column can be felt under the skin; detectable layer of fat between skin and muscle over rear half of body; thickening slightly but detectably over rump. 
  • Fat = vertebrae/hip bones not visible; palpation reveals fat deposited over upper vertebrae; hip bones difficult to feel through fat; fat thick over rump; a hand rubbed above the rump will initiate ripples in the skin over the fat layer. 
  • Obese = vertebrae/hip bones undetectable by palpation; thick layer of fat is apparent between skin and muscle 2/3 of the way up the back and over rump; a hand rubbed on lower back above rump sets off waves of rolling fat, possibly jiggling.