Expert predicts grim future for Canada’s polar bear population

Jordana Divon
Daily Brew

One of the world's leading experts on polar bears has issued a stark warning for fans of the furry carnivores: their days may be numbered.

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Ian Stirling said increasingly warm weather will likely make it impossible for the bears to survive around the shores of Hudson's Bay in Ontario and Manitoba over the next two-to-three decades.

"It's not speculation," Stirling told the paper. "By the middle of the century, we're likely to have lost two thirds of the world's polar bears."

Canada houses 60 per cent of the world's estimated 25,000 polar bears.

Stirling, a biologist and adjunct at the University of Alberta, has been studying polar bears for 41 years, giving him the longest tenure of anyone in the field.

He said the loss of Arctic ice due to increasing temperatures — at the rate of 10 per cent per decade since 1979 —constitutes the main threat to Canada's southernmost bear population.

The data, captured by satellite cameras, indicate the ice is melting even faster than predicted by scientific models. "The kind of scary thing is that the real life situation is worse," Stirling added, alluding to the fact that scientific models are often criticized for "being alarmist" in the first place.

His findings clash with a report by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which asserts population forecasting is inherently flawed, and that polar bear populations have, in fact, increased over the last century.

But Stirling, who has been visiting the polar bear hub near Churchill, Man. since 1970, said he has witnessed the ice deteriorate over the past four decades and warns the deficit may lead to potentially dangerous consequences for humans.