A cross-Arctic comparison shows that the US has been the most aggressive in designating polar bears and their main prey species as ‘threatened with extinction’ due to the predicted effects of human-caused (“anthropogenic”) global warming (AGW), even though the US has the least amount of sea ice habit of all circumpolar nations.
I’ve made a chart listing the conservation status of these species across all Arctic nations (Canada, Russia, Norway, Denmark (for Greenland) and the USA), as well as the one international body that considers the conservation status of all species (International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN).
Oddly, the IUCN considers the polar bear vulnerable due to future threats from predicted sea ice losses but not ringed seals or bearded seals. This situation highlights the capricious nature of the use of “future threats” (almost exclusively based on predictions of AGW) as a valid criteria for evaluating the conservation status of Arctic marine mammals. It also suggests why the IUCN has tightened considerably its rules regarding this practice.
Populations of all Arctic marine mammal species compared here1 are currently at relatively high levels of abundance (with one exception2) — or presumed to be so (some are technically “data deficient” due to lack of quality survey data).
Both the US and the IUCN consider some species (but not others) to be threatened or vulnerable to extinction based on future sea ice losses that might occur due to predicted effects of global warming. The US has the most complex system of conservation designation, with two federal agencies offering different opinions (Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), for the Endangered Species Act (ESA); NOAA, for the Marine Mammal Protection Act).
Have a look at the comparison chart below (updated 3 January, 2014). Dates of decisions, where stated, are in brackets (click to enlarge):
Note that Arctic nations with polar bears and/or seals and walrus that are prey of polar bears are the same nations vying for possession of the North Pole – see map below (from The Telegraph, 2007):
Footnote 1: For simplicity, I have not included cetaceans in this analysis, since beluga and narwhal generally represent a small component of the diet of animals hunted by polar bears (although they may be locally or seasonally important). Carcasses of large whales are feed upon by polar bears but they are not actively hunted.
Footnote 2: The hooded seal is considered ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN due to actual population declines (85-90 % over the last 40-60 years) in the Northeast Atlantic that are so far unexplained. Populations in the Northwest Atlantic, however, are stable or increasing. In contrast, polar bears are considered ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN due to future threats predicted to occur due to global warming. A review of this status category by June 2015, under strict new rules, has been ordered by the IUCN, to be prepared by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group.
Bearded and ringed seals join the polar bear as “threatened” by a computer-modeled future December 30, 2012
Bearded seals in Alaska face no serious threat of reduction, let alone extinction, judge rules July 27, 2014
No proof walrus are “struggling from the loss of sea ice” as new Earthjustice lawsuit claims November 10, 2014
Chukchi/Bering Sea ringed seals doing better despite declines in ice and snow: new study July 11, 2013
USA http://www.ecos.fws.gov Note that Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is responsible for listing Endangered Species Act (ESA) decisions but NOAA has a mandate to protect marine mammal species and has some different designations, e.g., see http://www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/newsreleases /2014/arcticringedseal120214.htm and http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/concern/
Species names (may be used for searches at above website links)
Polar bear Ursus maritimus
Ringed seal Phoca hispida
Bearded seal Erignathus barbatus
Walrus Odobenus rosmarus
Walrus, Atlantic Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus
Walrus, Pacific Odobenus rosmarus divergens
Harp seal Pagophilus groenlandicus
Ribbon seal Histriophoca fasciata
Spotted seal Phoca largha
Hooded seal Cystophora cristata
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