© Daniel J. Cox/NaturalExposures.com

Our Projects

We know polar bears.

We study their habits, patterns, and threats. We have been working for them since 1992 and are recognized as leaders in polar-bear research, education, and conservation.

Global Connections

PBI has forged relationships with leading scientists, biologists, and other professionals who are primarily engaged in polar bear conservation.

These relationships help guide our work and focus our research efforts and the projects we help fund.

Polar Bears International (PBI) supports polar-bear research prioritized by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group and by our conservation partners across the Arctic. Our chief scientist, Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, and our senior director of conservation, Geoff York, guide our direct engagement on science and policy.

© Daniel J. Cox/NaturalExposures.com

Ongoing Projects

Field Research

Population Studies

Based on projected future sea ice loss, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could disappear within this century.

Population studies track changes as the polar bear's habitat shrinks. This research provides governments and management authorities with critical data for making decisions—helping to conserve the bears. We’re currently providing funding for studies in Western Hudson Bay and Southern Hudson Bay.

Maternal Den Studies

Understanding polar bear denning behavior is crucially important as human activities increase across the Arctic.

This research documents key aspects of denning behavior and adds to our knowledge of den habitat selection. The findings will help managers and policy makers establish the best possible guidelines for assuring the welfare of denning bears. It will also help scientists understand the impact of climate change on the critical reproductive function of denning. We are currently conducting studies in Alaska and Svalbard.

Body Condition Project

This pilot program is developing tools to gather information on the body condition of polar bears through a combination of visual assessment and digital photographic measurements.

Western Hudson Bay is the perfect place to test new methods due to the long-term data on bears in the region. If successful, this project will help scientists obtain baseline condition data on bears in areas that currently lack any formal monitoring. It includes a Body Condition Scorecard  to standardize observations.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Traditional knowledge studies improve scientific understanding and management and strengthen ties with indigenous people;

they also involve stakeholder communities in conservation efforts. We are currently funding a study in Alaska villages on the Southern Beaufort Sea.

New Technology

Technology is constantly improving and evolving, providing opportunities for field researchers. PBI funds innovative research into new, non-invasive methods of studying polar bears, from remote den detection to population counts. Here are some of our recent and current projects.

Satellite and Drone Studies

Could drones be used as a way of studying polar bears without bothering them?

Could satellite imagery help with population counts? New technology could help with field research, especially in remote and logistically difficult areas.

Collar Cams

How do polar bears spend their time on land, on the sea ice, in the sea?

How much energy are they spending versus how calories consumed? Small cams attached to satellites are providing remarkable footage and insights.

SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar)

Our team is testing whether this small, antennae-like device can be attached to an aircraft and used to detect polar bear maternity dens under the snow while flying overhead.

So far, the results are extremely promising and could revolutionize the way we find dens—allowing scientists to quickly and accurately map active den sites, with a goal of protecting them from human disturbances

Management & Conflict Resolution

As more polar bears are driven ashore in more places as the sea ice retreats across the Arctic, successfully managing encounters between polar bears and people becomes more important than ever. PBI’s conflict resolution work includes chairing the IUCN Polar Bear Range States Conflict Working Group and working to bring together people across the Arctic to share knowledge. Projects also include an annual World Ranger Day Award.

Range States Conflict Working Group

Without careful planning and management, tragic outcomes are inevitable, for both polar bears and people.

This group is trying to stay ahead of the curve by learning from other conflict-reduction efforts around the globe and across species. The team’s goal is to reduce the expected increase in polar bear-human encounters and greatly minimize negative outcomes.

Frontline Operators Workshop

This workshop brought together a broad cross-section of people from across the Hudson Bay region.

The goal was to foster a discussion of shared concerns, tactics, and resources—with an ultimate goal to reduce conflict and improve safety. 

World Ranger Day Award

This award, given each year on World Ranger Day, July 31, pays tribute to the dedicated men and women who work on the front lines of polar bear conservation in some of the most remote places on our planet, striving to keep polar bears and people safe. 

Captive Research & Well-being

Polar bears in zoos and rescue centers help us with studies that would be impossible to conduct on bears in the wild. Studying bears up close can help us better understand details of their behavior and physiology, ultimately providing important information about polar bears in the wild.

Studies with zoo bears range from those that focus on their sensory ecology, such as the polar bear’s hearing capacity and sensitivity to disturbances, to an accelerometer calibration project that will help wildlife biologists gain insights into movement patterns and habitat use by wild bears.

Historically, PBI has also supported efforts to improve the living conditions and well being of polar bears under human care. These efforts include urging the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to adopt the Manitoba Minimum Standards for polar bears and funding a landmark study of stereotypic behavior.

Sensory Studies

What sounds can polar bears hear? What noises disturb them? Do scents play a role in finding mates?

Zoo bears help us with studies that would be impossible to conduct on bears in the wild but have important implications for their wild counterparts.

Cortisol Study

Measuring glucocorticoid (GC) levels in polar bears in zoos and in the wild will help scientists establish baseline information on this critical hormone.

The data could eventually help biologists monitor stress levels in wild polar bears, including those in poor ice areas without adequate food.

Energetics Study

This study focuses on how much energy polar bears expend while going about their daily activities, helping scientists understand their caloric requirements.

Through treadmill and swim flume studies and video collar cam validation, zoo bears are helping scientists gain invaluable data.

Photographic Record

Arctic Documentary Project

PBI, in collaboration with professional photographer Daniel Cox of Natural Exposures, is in the process of documenting and archiving still and video footage of the changes taking place in the Arctic, as a result of global warming, and the researchers who are studying climate change.

The project will help preserve this Arctic record for future generations and bring about awareness of the extraordinary changes taking place in the North.

See our Past Projects