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These great white bears are an icon of the Arctic, and many people feel a connection to polar bears, even if they’ve never seen one in person.

But you’ve probably also seen images circulating on the internet of starving polar bears struggling to stand, let alone hunt and contend with the elements. Habitat loss, human disturbance and climate change are combining to overwhelm polar bears. Alaska’s Arctic is rapidly overheating, experiencing the effects of climate change at twice the rate of the rest of the world.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain is the most important land habitat for denning polar bears, and 77% of the coastal plain is designated critical polar bear habitat. Yet that is precisely where devastating drilling for oil and gas is proposed to take place.

Defenders' Impact

Defenders of Wildlife is fighting for polar bears by advocating for protection of vital habitat. We are advocating against proposed oil and gas development on the Arctic Refuge coastal plain, which is incompatible with conserving and recovering this listed species.

We are speaking up publicly and submitting detailed scientific comments about the plight of polar bears and other imperiled Arctic wildlife. We have exposed the significant impacts that even exploring for oil would have on bears, let alone permanently industrializing their critical habitat. And we are working on the ground with the communities that live with polar bears to protect both people and bears by reducing human-bear conflicts.

Around the country, we are fighting climate change by promoting wildlife-friendly renewable energy development and encouraging a reduction of carbon emissions. In response to warming, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program students, along with Defenders of Wildlife and many others, are engaged in studies to better understand correlations between polar bears’ stress levels and the loss of sea ice.

Threats

Polar bears are threatened by habitat loss, human disturbance and climate change.

Protection Status
Endangered Species Act
IUCN Red List
CITES
 Threatened
 Vulnerable
 Appendix II
What You Can Do

Comment on any proposal that would harm polar bears or their habitat. Vote for leaders who believe climate change is real and support policy and funding allocations to address the climate crisis. Let your elected representatives know that public lands and waters, wildlife habitat, and endangered species are important to you as a constituent. Raise your voice in federal planning processes. Examine your own actions and choices to reduce emissions. 

Facts
Latin Name
Ursus maritimus
Size
6-9 feet in length, 550 - 1,320 pounds
Lifespan
20-25 years
Range/Habitat

Polar bears are only found in the Arctic. The most important habitats for polar bears are the edges of pack ice where currents and wind interact, forming a continually melting and refreezing matrix of ice patches and leads (open spaces in the sea ice). Because of climate change, the coastal plain is becoming a more critical denning area with the decrease in sea ice.

Population

While some populations are doing okay, the Southern Beaufort Sea population that resides in the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic is struggling to survive, with only an estimated 900 bears remaining, a decrease of over 50% from earlier estimates.

Behavior

They are generally solitary as adults, except during breeding and cub rearing. Polar bears are strong swimmers, and individuals have been seen in open Arctic waters as far as 200 miles from land, although swimming long distances is not preferred since it requires so much energy for adults and can be fatal to younger bears.

Reproduction

Sows give birth to usually 1 or 2 one-pound cubs and then nurse them until they reach about 20-30 pounds before emerging from the den in March or April. Cubs will remain with their mothers for a little over 2 years. Female polar bears can produce five litters in their lifetime, which is one of the lowest reproductive rates of any mammal.
Mating Season: Late March - May
Gestation: About 8 months with delayed implantation
Litter size: 1 - 4 cubs; though 1 or 2 cubs is most common

Diet

Polar bears feed almost exclusively on ringed seals and bearded seals. They are also known to eat walrus, beluga whale and bowhead whale carcasses, birds’ eggs and (rarely) vegetation.

Adopt a polar bear

Your adoption supports our work to protect the fragile Arctic ecosystem by fighting climate change and working to ban oil and gas drilling in the region.

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News

Washington, DC

Defenders Testifying in House Subcommittee Hearing on Climate, Wildlife Impacts

Defenders of Wildlife’s senior policy analyst for climate adaptation, Aimee Delach, will deliver testimony at a legislative hearing before the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on