Potential misinterpretations of polar bear numbers in the Arctic are confusing scientists and bear advocates alike. An aerial survey conducted by the Nunavut Department of Environment last August estimated the population of bears in the Hudson Bay area at 1,013 animals.
A 2004 survey counted 935 animals in the same area. The numbers suggest the polar bear population has increased 8 percent. Some scientists are chalking this up to the different ways the polar bears were tracked and counted.
Regardless of the actual number of animals, researchers emphasized that their biggest concern remained whether polar bears can survive a warming Arctic. The animals are currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with eight of 19 subspecies in decline.
Polar bears spend much of their lives on sea ice, preferring areas where ice meets water that lead to better hunting prospects for ringed and bearded seals. Most often, the bears catch seals hauled out to rest or surfacing to breathe through holes in the ice.