© 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

Polar Bears International's staff scientists forge relationships with leading researchers 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.

Our chief scientist, Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, and our senior director of conservation, Geoff York, guide our direct engagement on science and policy. This includes supporting polar bear research prioritized by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group and by our conservation partners across the Arctic. 

© Daniel J. Cox/NaturalExposures.com

Field Research

Population Studies

Sea ice loss from a warming Arctic is the biggest threat to polar bears, as the bears rely on the ice to reach their seal prey.

A recent study shows that without action, all but a few polar bear populations will likely collapse by 2100.

Population studies provide insights into how the bears in different areas are faring. This information can help guide management authorities in making decisions. Although every region differs, what we learn by studying polar bears in well-monitored areas can be applied across the Arctic to help conserve other populations. We are currently supporting population-related research in Canada, Norway, and Russia.

Maternal Den Studies

The denning period is the most vulnerable time in a polar bear's life.

Better understanding the needs of denning families 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 to protect moms and cubs. It will also help scientists understand the impact of climate warming on the critical reproductive function of denning. 

We are currently conducting studies in Svalbard, using an approach based on previous work in Alaska, and also researching a new den-detection tool to help find, and hence protect, denning families.

New Technology

Technology is constantly improving and evolving, providing opportunities for field researchers. Polar Bears International 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.

Better Tracking Devices

3M design engineers are helping us find a way to temporarily attach a small tracking device to a polar bear’s fur. 

The "Burr on Fur" tracking devices must be able to withstand sub-zero temperatures, snow, saltwater, and other challenges. If successful, this new approach will provide researchers with a minimally invasive way to study movement patterns and other activities of polar bears in the wild, giving us insights into their needs, health, and status. 

We tested two of the four prototypes that 3M designed on wild polar bears in Western Hudson Bay in the fall of 2020 and are currently conducting additional tests with polar bears in our Arctic Ambassador Center network of zoos and aquariums.

Finding Dens Under the Snow

Current den-detection methods used by industry miss more than half of known dens, an unacceptably high rate. 

Our team is testing whether a small synthetic aperture radar 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 of our radar tests are promising and could revolutionize the way we find dens—allowing scientists to quickly and accurately map active den sites, with a goal of protecting moms and cubs from human disturbances.

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 satellite collars are providing remarkable footage and insights.

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. The goal of Polar Bears International's conflict reduction work is to keep both people and polar bears safe.

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

We give this award every year on World Ranger Day, July 31.

It 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. 

Zoo-Based Studies

Polar bears in zoos and aquariums help us with research 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 their wild cousins.

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

This project is a collaborative effort with photographer Daniel J. Cox of Natural Exposures.

The goal is to document and archive still and video footage of the changes taking place in the Arctic as a result of global warming, as well as 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.