Polar Bear research in the Barents Sea

Magnus Andersen

Polar bears in the Barents Sea population have been protected from hunting in Russia since 1956 and following the signing of the international Polar Bear Agreement in 1973 in Norway. The initial threat to polar bears in the region was unquestionably overharvest. Polar bear numbers were reduced quite drastically and hunting was clearly not sustainable. After the harvesting was stopped, the population grew in size to an estimated 2650 (1900-3600) in 2004. We believe that population recovery led to a wider distribution of maternity denning in the Svalbard Archipelago, compared to the period just after the protection of the population in 1973. However, during recent decades, the population has faced challenges from a variety of new anthropogenic impacts. The population has been exposed to a range of pollutants and an increasing level of human presence and activity within their range. Contaminants are bioaccumulated through the trophic levels in the marine food web, culminating in this top predator that consumes primarily ringed, bearded and harp seals. Females with small cubs use the land-fast sea ice for hunting, and are vulnerable to human disturbance. Changes in sea ice conditions also affect polar bears in the region, and reduced access to denning areas on the eastern islands of Svalbard is currently a concern. A decrease in spring land-fast ice close to important denning areas could negatively affect the survival of cubs. Research and monitoring provides advice to management bodies both locally and globally. Information on the presence of toxic compounds in High Arctic systems has resulted in progress in recent decades in having better control of harmful substances and in some cases international bans on their production and use. This has resulted in declining contaminant burdens in polar bears. Unfortunately, new harmful substances are finding their way to the Arctic, while others, such as radionuclides, are stored locally (within Russian Territories) in large quantities, representing potential sources of pollution. The protection of important habitats locally with restrictions on motorized traffic may help reduce negative impacts from human activity on polar bears in the region. The fate of polar bears with regard to climate change is uncertain, but significant negative effects have been documented and these impacts are expected to increase in the coming decades. Relevant research and monitoring of polar bears is essential for future management of the species.

Magnus Andersen was born in 1972 in Bodø, northern Norway, and after finishing high school in 1991 he started studying biology at the University of Bergen, before moving to the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) in 1994. He received his M.Sc. in Marin Zoology at the University of Tromsø in 1998 on a thesis describing population parameters of bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus), and defended his Dr. Philos thesis, on polar bear (Ursus maritimus) population biology and threats to the population in the Barents Sea, in 2013. He has been permanently employed with the Norwegian Polar Institute since 1999. The main area of interest is Arctic marine mammal ecology and anthropogenic impact on populations and most of the work he has been involved in the last fourteen years has included polar bears.
Willem Barentsz Poolinstituut

Bundeling van kennis, onderzoek en onderwijs over de Noord- en de Zuidpool

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