Dr. Ian Stirling was recognized for his more than four decades of research on Arctic mammals, including polar bears.

© Valerie Abbott

12/14/2015 7:42:57 PM

Dr. Ian Stirling Awarded Prestigious Weston Family Prize

Polar Bears International is proud to congratulate Dr. Ian Stirling, a world-renowned polar marine mammal scientist and University of Alberta adjunct professor, for winning The Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research. Stirling was awarded the prize for his more than four decades of ground-breaking research on the ecology and history of Arctic mammals. He was presented with the $50,000 prize at ArcticNet's 2015 Annual Scientific Meeting in Vancouver last week. 

"Ian has been a long-time scientific advisor to Polar Bears International, generously volunteering his time and expertise," said Krista Wright, executive director of Polar Bears International. "He has had an enormous impact on polar bear research and conservation - and is well deserving of this prestigious award."

Stirling has studied polar bears throughout the Canadian Arctic for over 40 years with the Canadian Wildlife Service. His long-term studies of the Western Hudson Bay polar bears, one of the world's most southerly populations, showed as early as 1999 that global warming was having a negative impact on polar bear body condition, reproduction, and survival.  

"Ian recognized early in his career that meaningful ecological results can only come from long-term research," says PBI's chief scientist, Dr. Steven C. Amstrup. "Inter-annual and even inter-decadal variation in weather and sea ice, and associated conditions, result in variations that can only be understood over the long run. Ian's commitment to continuing the research necessary to sort out that variation has been the basis for much of what we know about polar bears today, and an inspiration for others."

"In addition to his tremendous research accomplishments, Ian has been life-long mentor teacher and guide for numerous students who are now working on their own research projects all over the world," added Amstrup.

For decades Stirling was a research scientist with the Canadian Wildlife Service, where he focused on the ecological relationships between polar bears, seals, and sea ice conditions. Although now retired from the CWS, Stirling remains active and a leader in polar bear and Arctic science.

He currently holds an adjunct professor position in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta and is an emeritus scientist with Environment Canada. He also remains an active member of the IUCN Polar Bears Specialist Group. 

Stirling estimates that about half of the polar bear population around the circumpolar Arctic could disappear by 2050 to 2060, if climate warming continues as currently projected, with the last survivors expected to be in the Northern Canadian Arctic islands and Greenland. There are 19 different polar bear subpopulations around the world, 13 of which are found in Canada.

"I am honored to be recognized by The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, which I greatly admire for its commitment to northern science, its strong leadership, and for funding important Canadian Arctic research," said Stirling. "The study of polar marine mammals, such as polar bears and seals, is essential to the conservation and management of both the Arctic and Antarctic marine ecosystems, which in turn comprise a crucial component of the total environment of the Earth."

The W. Garfield Weston Foundation is a private Canadian family foundation, established in the 1950s by Willard Garfield Weston, his wife Reta, and their children. The Weston Family Prize recognizes a leading northern researcher in natural science and is the largest of its kind.

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