In the last 15 years, polar bear hunters in eastern Greenland have had to adapt their hunting practices because of climate change, according to a new survey published this week in the journal Frontiers in Maritime Science.
The traditional knowledge survey was done by the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, with the help of the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington.
Twenty-five full time polar bear hunters from the settlements of Tasiilaq and Ittoqqortoormiit were interviewed between December 2014 and March 2015 for the survey.
"We have previous traditional knowledge surveys that were conducted in the 90s in East Greenland, so we have, basically, data points to look in the past, and we talked to hunters and asked them what they were observing then. And now we have a current data point where we can do the same and it is really valuable," said Kristin Laidre, a scientist with the University of Washington.
The majority of hunters said that since a quota was introduced in the region in 2006, there have been more polar bears coming into towns.
The hunters' opinions differed as to why, however. Some thought it was the quota system, as they felt it was mainly after the permitted number of bears were killed for the year that bears began wandering into town.
Others attributed the rise of in-town sightings to the loss of sea ice.
Hunters have changed how they hunt because of a loss of sea ice in the last 10 to 15 years. Since there is more open water, fewer hunting trips take place on dog sled and more by boat — in Greenland, hunters are prohibited from hunting by snowmobile, the study notes.
The hunts have also been taking place closer to town, as traditional routes for both hunters and bears along the sea ice and the Greenland ice cap are no longer there or no longer safe due to climate change, hunters said.
There have been no previous scientific abundance estimates of the eastern Greenland polar bear subpopulation. This survey is the start of gathering an estimate and Laidre says the team of researchers aims to have a number by 2022.
It started after the same team completed their survey of the Baffin Bay and Kane Basin polar bear subpopulations, which roam between Nunavut and western Greenland.
In Baffin Bay there are now an estimated 2,826 animals, while in the Kane Basin there are some 357 bears, which was the same or slightly more than the previous survey of the region found in the 1990s.