Polar bears face increasing hardship as Arctic ice is melting. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

More polar bears in Svalbard

But life conditions for the great Arctic predator is increasingly at risk as temperatures rise and ice melts.
December 27, 2015

The polar bear counting conducted this year by the Norwegian Polar Institute indicates a significant increase in the number of animals. Results show that the bear population in the Svalbard archipelago now amounts about 975 animals, an increase of almost 30 percent since the last count in 2004, a press release from the Polar Institute reads.

”The bears were in good physical condition”, says polar bear scientist Jon Aars. ”The ice conditions were good this year and last year, and so the availability of food has been good”, he adds.

At the same time, the researcher underlines that the situation for the bear population is vulnerable. ”Should there be several years in a row with poor ice conditions, this may be of major consequences for the polar bears.”

That kind of ice conditions are already underway. As previously reported, temperatures in the area between the Svalbard archipelago and the Russian Taimyr peninsula were in November up to eight degrees higher than normal.

In December there has been unusually little sea ice in the area. That is a serious problem for the polar bear and especially the pregnant females which depend on snow lairs on land.

In an interview with newspaper Afterposten, Polar Institute leader Jan-Gunnar Winter says the situation could seriously affect next year’s cubs.

Winter also confirms that an increasing number of bears remain in Svalbard all through the year instead of their normal seasonal migration on drifting ice.

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The Polar Institute’s polar bear counting was conducted in a four-week period this fall. Originally, also Russian researchers were to take part in the counting. However, the joint action was cancelled when Norwegian researchers were rejected entry to the Russian Arctic territories. 

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