Total polar bear hunting activity in Canada, Greenland, Alaska, Russia and Svalbard from 1963–2016 is estimated to have killed 53,495 bears, an average of 991 bears per year. Logically, such elevated hunting activity must have contributed to declining polar bear populations in some areas. But whether or not it has depends on population sizes prior to 1963 and actual growth rates for each subpopulation.

Copyright: Polar Bears & Humans project / Ole J LioddenOverall polar bear hunting statistics for Canada, Greenland, Alaska, Russia and Svalbard, 1963-2016. Dashed lines and grey numbers are estimates. See the Polar Bears & Humans book for source references and more details.

Overall polar bear hunting activity in the Arctic peaked in the 1960s, with approximately 9,278 bears killed from 1963–69, an average of 1,325 polar bears killed per year. This peak did not result from heightened hunting activity in Canada – the combined intensive hunting in Svalbard and Alaska were responsible. Indeed, from 1963–69 hunters killed 2,230 polar bears in the Svalbard archipelago, including more than 430 bears in each of 1964 and 1965. Statistics for Alaska were similar: from 1963–69 trophy hunters, largely, killed 1,978 polar bears.

Copyright: Polar Bears & Humans project / Ole J LioddenTotal polar bear hunting statistics for the Arctic, by area, per decade, 1963-2016. See the Polar Bears & Humans book for source references and more details.

Though the decade started with 1,526 bears killed in its first year, as the figure above shows, the 1970s revealed lower polar bear hunting activity for the Arctic, overall. Again, Svalbard contributed largely to the peak of 1970, with hunters killing 515 polar bears just before the Svalbard quota was introduced there in 1971. Trophy hunting in Alaska also remained elevated, until the MMPA enacted its ban in 1972.

The Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears of 1973 had an important impact on all Arctic areas, except Canada and Russia. Whereas Norway had banned polar bear hunting in Svalbard and the US allowed only indigenous people to hunt in Alaska, hunting activity in Canada increased to approximately 624 kills that year, as illustrated in the figure above. However, the second half of the 1970s demonstrated some of the lowest overall polar bear hunting activity recorded for the Arctic over the last 50 years.

During the 1980s hunters killed an estimated total of 9,799 polar bears. From 1981–84 more than 1,000 of those bears were killed each year, as shown in the figure above. The total increase over the previous decade resulted largely from higher hunting activity in Canada, which had nearly 700 kills in both 1982 and 1983. Alaskan polar bear hunting also increased in the 1980s, with a decadal peak of 243 kills in 1984. Greenland remained stable with about 150–200 annual kills for most years of the 1980s.

Total polar bear hunting activity for the Arctic continued to increase in the beginning of the 1990s, until reaching the decadal peaks of about 1,141 kills in 1991 and 1,090 kills in 1992. Canadian hunting activity decreased slowly during this period, but Russian poaching skyrocketed beginning in 1991. After the Soviet Union collapsed, illegal hunting went out of control. Up to 400 polar bears may have been poached in peak years. Hunting activity in Alaska decreased somewhat throughout the 1990s, yet activity in Greenland stayed consistently high. Total Arctic hunting activity in the 1990s accounted for approximately 10,031 killed bears, the highest total since the 1960s.

Polar bear hunting activity for the entire Arctic decreased slightly to approximately 9,570 kills in the 2000s. Greenland’s hunting activity hit its highest peak when hunters killed 278 polar bears in 2003 and remained high until the quota system was introduced there in 2006. The new quotas reduced hunting activity and the number of polar bears killed stabilised around 120–150 over the following years. Canadian hunting activity continued in excess of 500 annual kills most years, representing 54% of all polar bears killed in the 2000s. Meanwhile, Russian poaching decreased.

The lowest total Arctic polar bear hunting activity was recorded in 2010–16 as approximately 5,745 kills, or 821 per year on average. Notably, 713 polar bears were killed in 2010 and then fewer than 800 polar bears each year were killed from 2014–16, as illustrated in the figure above. Two significant causes for the decrease in hunting activity in this period were the reduction in Russian poaching and Greenland’s recent quota system. Alaskan hunting activity also dropped to its lowest point. Canada went the opposite direction, increasing its hunting activity to 660 bears killed in 2011 and 671 bears killed in 2012. From 2010-16 Canada represented 70% of all polar bear hunting in the Arctic. This recent peak was likely a reaction to increasing polar bear skin prices during the same period.

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The information on this webpage is from Chapter 2.6 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.