Greenland has five polar bear subpopulations: Kane Basin (KB) in the north-west; Arctic Basin (AB) in the north; East Greenland (EG) along the entire east coast; Davis Strait (DS) in the south-west; and Baffin Bay (BB) along the central part of the west coast. The Kane Basin area, the Melville Bay and Upernavik areas of the Baffin Bay area, and the central and northern coastal parts of the East Greenland area have especially favourable habitat with seasonally drifting sea ice that provides polar bears with access to seals. More than 95% of the polar bears killed in Greenland in the last 50 years were in these three subpopulation areas.

Copyright: Polar Bears & Humans project / Ole J LioddenOverall polar bear hunting statistics for the subpopulation areas in Greenland, 1963-2016. See the Polar Bears & Humans book for source references and more details.

Hunting quotas
The earliest available polar bear hunting statistics for Greenland date back to 1793. Most polar bear skins in Greenland were traded through the stores of the Royal Greenland Trading Department, which was a monopoly until 1953. People in Thule and Scoresbysund used polar bear skins for winter clothing, rather than selling or registering them to trading posts. In the southern parts of Greenland, people used seal skin and skins of reindeer and dogs for clothing; consequently, trading posts purchased and registered a larger portion of their polar bear skins. Some polar bear skins were also sold privately and never entered official statistics.

Greenland’s polar bears have been hunted intensively since 1794, with peaks of 221 polar bears killed in 1908 and 260 killed in 1921. Total hunting activity at that time was higher when including kills in East Greenland by Norwegian and Danish sealers and trappers, and in Davis Strait and Baffin Bay by British sailing expeditions. Many of those skins were sold in Norway, Denmark and the United Kingdom and never joined Greenland’s official polar bear hunting statistics.

Except for 1975, 1977, 1978 and 1986, Greenland hunters killed more than 100 polar bears per year from 1963–2016. Hunting activity increased rapidly from 2001–05 and peaked with 278 bears killed in 2003. The intensive polar bear hunting activity caught international attention, and political pressure has reduced hunting activity in recent years.

Greenland prohibits polar bear trophy hunting, and only local, full-time hunters with a valid license can participate in regular hunting. As of April 2008, Greenland has also prohibited the exportation of any polar bear parts, such as skins, skulls, claws and meat. These regulations have reduced people’s interest in commercial polar bear hunting, and overall hunting activity in Greenland has decreased.

Protected areas in Greenland
Greenland has established areas that protect some important polar bear denning areas from development. In 1974 the Northeast Greenland National Park was established north of Ittoqqortoormiit and in 1988 it was extended to its present size of 972,000 km² – nearly the size of Egypt. This national park is the largest and northernmost protected area of land in the world. It encompasses important denning habitat, and no human residents live permanently inside park boundaries. However, the park does not protect animals, and hunters have access to polar bears, other mammals and birds inside the park.

In 1980 a smaller area of 10,500 km² was protected in Melville Bay of north-western Greenland, an important area for denning polar bears. At the Melville Bay Nature Reserve, polar bear hunting is only allowed for full-time local hunters using dog sleds or boats in the outer area (Zone I) of the park. Within the inner part (Zone II) of the park, hunters may only pursue and kill wounded polar bears. No tourism or transportation are allowed inside the reserve, but scientific research is allowed in both zones.

Learn more about polar bears
The information on this webpage is from Chapter 2.3 in the Polar Bears & Humans book. If you want to learn more about polar bears and conservation, order a copy of the book, and support the Polar Bears & Humans project.