Portrait of Dr. Ian Stirling on a Tundra Buggy

Photo: Daniel J. Cox

Scientist Ian Stirling Receives Ice Bear Lifetime Achievement Award



08 Nov 2019

CHURCHILL, CANADA (November 9, 2019) - In recognition of his ground-breaking research on polar bears and decades-long commitment to their conservation, Polar Bears International (PBI) presented Dr. Ian Stirling with its Ice Bear Lifetime Achievement Award today in Churchill, Manitoba. PBI is the only nonprofit with a sole focus on polar bears and their sea ice home.

“Dr. Stirling is known worldwide for his work with polar bears,” said Krista Wright, executive director of PBI. “He began studying the bears in the early 1970s, when very little was known about them. Later, in the early 1990s, he and his then-graduate student, Dr. Andrew Derocher, were the first to suggest that sea ice loss from climate change may pose a threat to the polar bear’s survival—a hypothesis later confirmed. We’re proud to honor Ian for extraordinary accomplishments over the course of his long career.”

Photo: Ian Stirling

Dr. Ian Stirling in the 1970s, conducting cliff-top observations of polar bears.

Dr. Stirling has studied polar bears across Canada’s north and is known for his long-term research with an emphasis on understanding the bears within the context of their ecosystem (including their prey). He is a research scientist emeritus with Environment and Climate Change Canada, an adjunct professor in the University of Alberta Department of Biological Sciences, and a long-time scientific advisor to PBI. In addition, he is a member of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group and the author of more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific papers and five books, including Polar Bears: The Natural History of a Threatened Species.

Dr. Andrew Derocher, now a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta and polar bear scientist, said “Ian’s research on polar bears, and the ecosystems they depend on, laid the foundation for understanding how climate change is affecting the bears. He truly is the keystone scientist of polar bear research.”

Dr. Stirling holds a B.Sc. and M.Sc. from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and a Ph.D. from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he studied the population ecology of Weddell seals in Antarctica.

Dr. Stirling’s past awards include the Order of Canada, the Northern Science Award, the Kenneth S. Norris Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research. In addition, he is a fellow in the Royal Society of Canada.

In conjunction with the Ice Bear Award, PBI released a video, “Ian Stirling: A Life’s Work in Polar Regions.” In it, Dr. Stirling describes his decades of research as well as his early fieldwork in the High Arctic, where he led a study of polar bear behavior by watching bears on the ice through clifftop telescopes. “Being able to watch undisturbed bears for weeks on end in 24-hour daylight—that type of work was absolutely the highlight for me,” he said.

Dr. Stirling sees the decline of the Western Hudson Bay population, which has dropped by over 30 percent, as a harbinger of the future unless we take action.

“[The decline] is telling us what's going to happen in a lot of other areas if climate warming isn't stopped or brought under control,” he said. “The way things are looking at the moment it's quite likely that there won't be very many bears in Western Hudson Bay in 40 years. If we really started to work globally to do something, we might be able to slow things down and conserve some of the most important areas of Arctic habitat.”