Canada and Greenland have been the top two exporting countries of polar bear skins since the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears took effect in 1973. Statistics from the CITES database, reveals that from 1976–2015 Canada exported 11,581 polar bear skins and Greenland exported 2,141 skins. The remaining exportation of polar bear skins occurred mainly as re-exports of skins other countries had already imported from Canada or Greenland. The figure below include polar bear export data from these two countries only.

Copyright: Polar Bears & Humans project / Ole J LioddenStatistics of polar bear skins exported internationally from Canada and Greenland, 1976-2015.

Polar bear skin exports from Greenland
The first polar bear skin exported from Greenland was registered in the CITES database in 1977. Through Denmark, Greenland was part of the EU until 1985 and thus registered its polar bear skins as exported from Denmark but originating in Greenland.

The figure above illustrates that from 1986–95 the number of skins Greenland exported was 938, but decreased to 787 from 1996–2005. The high hunting level in western Greenland from 2003–05 caught international attention. The government of Greenland tried to manage the situation in 2006 by introducing a hunting quota limiting all hunting activity to a 150-bear annual maximum. Even so, the combined hunting activity between Greenland and Canada in Baffin Bay was unsustainable, and in 2008 Greenland’s government introduced a temporary export ban on all polar bear parts originating from Greenland, still in effect in 2019.

Polar bear skin exports from Canada
Canada is by far the largest exporter of polar bear skins. From 2011–2015 all international polar bear skin exports originated in Canada, other than nine skins from Greenland and re-exports between countries, which are not included in the figure above. The greatest peak in Canadian skin exports was 488 polar bear skins in 2010. Earlier peaks included more than 400 skins exported in 1980, 1989, 1990 and 1997. The average annual number of exported skins was fairly stable, going from 259.0 skins in 1976–85 to 299.2 skins the following ten-year period, then 273.7 skins in 1996–2005, and 326.2 skins in 2006–15. The increase in more recent years is most likely a response to higher skin prices and more hunters engaging in commercial hunting.

Most auctioned polar bear skins are exported from Canada, whereas mounted bears typically comprise Canada’s domestic sales. Canada does not restrict the possession or sale of polar bear skins across provinces or territories within the country, as long as each skin was acquired legally. For example, the skin from a polar bear killed in one province or territory in Canada can be sold and moved between other jurisdictions to multiple individuals or businesses before it is ready for exportation.

Learn more about polar bears
The information on this webpage is from Chapter 6.2 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.