Big, brilliant, and built for cold, polar bears are the very symbol of a wild Arctic. Yet, despite their size and strength, they need our help to survive the coming decades.
Making a Difference
At Polar Bears International, our mission is to conserve polar bears and the sea ice they depend on. We work to address both short and long-term threats to polar bears to ensure they roam the sea ice for generations to come. Explore our 2022 Annual Report for highlights of our recent accomplishments.
Quarterly Impact Reports
Catch up on our latest quarterly highlights from our science, education, advocacy, and outreach teams.
— Our team is sending out equipment for our last Burr on Fur tag deployments with zoo bears, allowing us to finalize refinements to the design and bring this project to a successful conclusion. Impact: As a result of this research, a less-invasive, field-tested tracking alternative for polar bears will be available to researchers.
— We’ve installed our second Detect to Protect mobile radar tower in a high-traffic polar bear area near Churchill, Manitoba for a final year of field testing. Next steps are to work with partners at the University of Alberta to fine-tune the AI system’s ability to distinguish bears from vehicles or other wildlife. Impact: By developing an early warning system that can detect approaching bears, we can help reduce conflict between polar bears and people.
— Our Norwegian partners successfully retrieved our Maternal Den Study cameras from the steep mountain slopes of Svalbard and we’re now analyzing the data. This long-term project is now in its 9th year. Impact: the study provides critical insights on polar bear moms and cubs during the vulnerable denning period.
— Our second Detect to Protect mobile radar tower is currently under construction, with plans to use it in a high-traffic polar bear area near Churchill, Manitoba this fall. Impact: by developing an early warning system that can detect approaching bears, we can help reduce conflict between polar bears and people.
Burr on Fur Tracking Devices
— Our innovative “Burr on Fur” tracking devices took home the gold in the first annual Gizmodo Science Fair, an honor shared with other technology advances including a breast cancer vaccine, male birth control, and a fully electric aircraft developed by NASA.
— Several of our zoo partners applied two types of tag designs during routine health exams this year. Modified with feedback from previous wild and zoo deployments, one tag showed significant improvement in integrity and gripping power.
— Scientists will deploy the new and improved tags on wild polar bears this spring as part of planned field work in Western Hudson Bay by partners.
— Our team continues to work with technology providers to develop and refine a suitable GPS tag that would be more accurate and lighter than the current tag
Impact of this work: enabling scientists to follow adult male polar bears and young bears without permanent attachment mechanisms, in addition adding a new tool to track bears that are relocated away from human activity.
Svalbard Maternal Den Studies (Norway)
— This quarterly impact report comes right at the end of our Svalbard field season. The team was able to deploy three camera systems near known den locations. Our partners will collect the den cams after the moms and cubs emerge in spring, returning them for analysis.
— A new partner conducted six den surveys over two known den sites to see if drone-based radar, which can determine snow depth and layers, can detect moms and cubs under the snow. This technology shows great promise as a tool for increased accuracy in finding denning bears in Arctic conditions to help humans avoid disturbing them.
Impact of this work: learning more about moms and cubs during the vulnerable denning period and testing technologies to locate, and help protect, denning families from disturbances.
“Detect to Protect” Radar (Bear-dar)
— Our team has ordered equipment to upgrade our trailer-based radar systems, which are currently located in Churchill, Manitoba. The new systems will be wind-powered and more versatile.
— We are still training the radar’s Artificial Intelligence systems to recognize approaching polar bears, and are steadily making progress toward early warning systems that hold promise for reducing bear encounters.
Impact of this work: developing an early warning technology that can detect approaching bears, helping to reduce conflict between polar bears and people.
Emerging Scientific Techniques
— Dr. John Whiteman, our chief research scientist, is embarking on a novel approach to understanding aspects of metabolism and the physiological limits of fasting polar bears. Through our network of partners and funders, we are supporting the design and development of a research plan that will allow a young scientist to pursue this line of inquiry, mentored by Dr. Whiteman.
Impact of this work: expanding our understanding of the polar bear’s needs while mentoring the next generation.
External Research Support
— Dr. Ian Stirling is working on his third publication since we began supporting his analysis of the massive behavioral database on polar bears that he compiled early in his career.
— Dr. Louise Archer, our postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto Scarborough, has submitted a manuscript on polar bear lactation energetics as part of her population energetic modeling efforts.
Impact of this work: adding to our knowledge of polar bears, with impacts on their conservation, by supporting critical research.
Zoo-based Research that Informs Polar Bear Conservation and Management
— Working with partners, we recently participated in meetings with European Zoo professionals, with a goal of creating a conservation research prospectus for European zoos with polar bears. Like their North American counterparts, European zoos are becoming more involved in conservation science research. These studies include developing new field techniques, better understanding polar bear reproduction and physiology, and filling key knowledge gaps about the species that cannot be addressed in the wild.
Impact of this work: filling key knowledge gaps that can’t be addressed with wild polar bears.
— Over a six-week period in July and August, we piloted a pop-up interpretive center (the Polar Bears International Ice House) in Longyearbyen, Norway, on the Svalbard archipelago, engaging with over 4,000 visitors. Impact: Longyearbyen is a popular stop-off spot for Arctic cruises, providing us with an opportunity to reach visitors with our conservation message.
— Our very first summer camp for youth in the Churchill community was a huge success. The kids (and Board Advisor Georgina Berg) had a fantastic time out on the landscape. The program was provided at no cost to participants thanks to a generous donor. Impact: The program strengthens ties with the town of Churchill, a hub for our research and outreach efforts.
— Team members installed the most northern pop-up interpretive center, the Polar Bears International Ice House, in Longyearbyen, Norway, on the Svalbard archipelago. Impact: more than 31,000 Arctic cruise travelers pass through the town in July and August alone, providing an opportunity to reach them with our conservation message.
— We recently hired a new outreach specialist to support and expand our conservation programming. Impact: by expanding our outreach on how people can help, we’re building support for a sustainable future—for polar bears and all of us.
Education & Awareness
— International Polar Bear Day, our annual awareness event, was a huge success this year, focusing attention globally on polar bears and the challenges they face in a warming Arctic, with extensive media coverage, a strong social presence, and a surge in visits to our website.
— Staff Scientist Alysa McCall presented a TED Talk in New York City on polar bears that was extremely well-received. It was released publicly on April 11. It focuses on human-bear coexistence efforts including Churchill’s Bear Smart Working Group and our Burr on Fur tags.
— We trained three interpretive field ambassadors to staff Polar Bears International House during northern lights season in Churchill. This team engages with visitors who travel to the North to see the northern lights, sharing information on polar bears and the threats they face in a warming Arctic.
— We released three films this winter that provide a window into the polar bears’ world and Arctic research:
— Violet, on a female polar bear and her cubs in Svalbard, Norway
— A Day in the Life of BJ Kirschhoffer, on Svalbard fieldwork
— A Day in the Life of Joanna Sulich, on Svalbard fieldwork
Impact of this work: highlighting the issues facing polar bears and inspiring them to get involved.
Arctic Ambassador Center Network
— The past three months were busy ones for the members of our team who work with our Arctic Ambassador Center network of zoos and aquariums. We focused attention on re-engaging with AACs that experienced significant staff turnover during the pandemic. At four North American and two European site visits, we provided presentations about our work and the impact of AACs on polar bear conservation. These visits included outreach opportunities with photos, interviews and Facebook Live events.
— Staff representatives attended an annual climate change awareness event, “Defend the Ice” night, hosted by one of our AACs in partnership with a local AHL hockey team. This campaign shares key messaging about the importance of ice to polar bears and hockey fans and also raises funds to support our work. Several other AACs are considering similar campaigns..
— We are beginning the process of reviewing two or three candidates to add to our 50-strong AAC network in 2023.
— Through one of our AACs, we connected by Zoom from Polar Bears International House in Churchill with Future Healers, a program for local youth and their families who have been impacted by gun violence. It was an honor to be included in this work, sharing information on polar bears with a highly interested audience. We prioritize direct connections for AACs working with traditionally marginalized members of the community.
Impact of this work: Our accredited zoo and aquarium partners reach millions of people every year with our conservation and advocacy messages, greatly amplifying our impact.
— In Q1, coverage included articles on a tragic bear attack in Alaska and the importance of supporting communities to prepare for a new reality of more polar bears onshore (in the Washington Post, Agence France Presse, Alaska Public Radio, AP, Newsweek and others).
— Q1 also featured extensive media on International Polar Bear Day (in IFL Science, BBC Earth, The Atlantic, Scripps Morning TV and more), plus miscellaneous coverage, including stories in National Geographic, Travel & Leisure and Gizmodo.
Impact of this work: sharing accurate information on polar bears and the threats they face with a global audience, combating misinformation, cutting through the digital clutter and inspiring action.
— A groundbreaking new paper led by our chief scientist emeritus, Dr. Steve Amstrup, addressed a long-standing climate loophole in the Endangered Species Act, paving the way for removing a critical roadblock to polar bear protections. Impact: This research has significant policy implications for polar bears and other species, and can serve as a model for other countries weighing development projects.
— Our team is busy preparing for fall policy meetings, including the Polar Bear Range States meeting, the Arctic Assembly, and the U.N. Climate Talks. As in past years, we are sharing credentials to attend the U.N. Climate Talks with young influencers and participants in the “BIPOC to COP” initiative. Impact: By engaging in these spaces and expanding our network, we can encourage policies that support polar bear conservation.
— We welcomed a new policy consultant who will be working closely with our Director of Policy and Advocacy. Impact: By regularly meeting with legislators and providing briefing papers, we can build support for policies with a positive impact for polar bears.
— Our senior policy manager, Emily Ringer, launched an internal review of the Circumpolar Action Plan for Polar Bears under the Range States with our policy fellow, Alex Shahbazi. The plan will help inform Polar Bears International’s approach at the 2023 Range States Meeting as well as our strategic support of conservation activities amongst international partners.
— Our advocacy Intern, Elliot Williamson, is creating recommendations for engaging Gen Z in advocacy efforts.
Impact of this work: encouraging policies that support polar bear conservation and engaging the public in advocacy.
— We held meetings in July with two coastal Cree communities in northern Ontario to hear about their concerns and needs on how to live safely with polar bears. We are now working on their equipment and training requests in preparation for the busy freeze-up period in the region this fall. Impact: By reducing human-polar bear conflict, both polar bears and people can thrive.
— The Churchill Bear Smart Working Group (CBSWG) finalized a series of new safety videos, funded by Polar Bears International and created in collaboration with our film-production partner, Handcraft. The videos will be rolled out to the public this fall. Handouts with a QR code linking to the videos will be distributed widely to keep visitors and bears safe. Impact of this work: supporting the efforts of the Town of Churchill to become the world’s first Polar Bear Smart Community, a model for others to follow.
— We partnered with a graduate student at the University of Miami on a literature review on the impacts of bear-viewing on polar bears. Impact: providing data to decision-makers will help inform science-based guidelines for Arctic tourism.
— Our team continued to work on human-polar bear coexistence efforts in Churchill, Manitoba, supporting waste management efforts to reduce attractants and working with the town on a two-year work plan. Impact of this work: supporting the efforts of the Town of Churchill to become the world’s first Polar Bear Smart Community, a model for others to follow.
Southern Hudson Bay Coexistence (Ontario, Canada)
— After long delays due to COVID and other challenges, we joined partners in holding in-person polar bear safety meetings in Fort Severn, Ontario, where polar bear sightings have increased in recent years. We continue to engage with other communities in Ontario, with additional in-person meetings planned for later this spring.
— We began distributing polar safety materials in English and Cree (a poster and brochure) to Cree communities living with polar bears in Ontario.
— In response to community concerns, we ordered a new, specially designed polar bear culvert trap to help relocate bears that may pose a threat to human safety.
— We purchased deterrence equipment, including bear spray, hand held flares, cracker shells and high-powered flashlights, that will be distributed to communities requesting these items.
Impact of this work: to reduce human-polar bear conflict, allowing bears and people to thrive.
Churchill Bear Smart Working Group (Manitoba, Canada)
— The next in-person meeting of the Churchill Bear Smart Working Group is being planned for later this spring.
— The group is preparing to install additional residential bear-safe waste bins in Churchill after the spring thaw.
— Participants held early discussions on the feasibility of hands-on polar bear deterrence training for local guides and polar bear guards.
— Efforts to pilot more sustainable and bear safe waste management options for Churchill continue with planned public meeting and outreach on combined composting and incineration with heat recovery planned for April.
Impact of this work: supporting the efforts of the Town of Churchill to become the world’s first Polar Bear Smart Community.
— Much of our press coverage in the third quarter centered around a recent paper by our chief scientist emeritus, Dr. Steven Amstrup, that paves the way for climate protections for polar bears under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Coverage ranged from syndicated articles in AFP and AP to articles in Inside Climate News, The Wildlife Society, CNN, Forbes, The Hill and more.
Give with Confidence
Together we can make a difference. If we work collaboratively and act on climate warming before it gets worse, we all win, and polar bears will continue to roam the Arctic sea ice for generations to come.