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Polar Bear fur appears white or off-white due to translucent hairs (sunlight partially goes through them). Polar Bears have no shoulder hump and they have shorter claws and a longer neck than Grizzly Bears.

Weight: Females, less than 350 kg (770 lb); Males, up to 800 kg (1750 lb).

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Polar Bear habitat is closely linked to density and distribution of seals (their main prey) and to the distribution of annual ice in the winter. Bears generally follow the retreating ice offshore in the summer. Maternal denning sites are usually located on land in snowdrifts near the coast but have also been found on sea ice. 

Polar Bears are sensitive to population declines because they only breed every three years, have small litters, and take a long time to reach maturity.

NWT shares three sub-populations of Polar Bears, an estimated 3,000 bears, with neighbouring jurisdictions: Southern Beaufort Sea, Northern Beaufort Sea, and Viscount Melville Sound. The Southern Beaufort Sea sub-population is likely declining based on scientific information, but stable based on Indigenous Knowledge. The Northern Beaufort Sea sub-population is likely stable. The information for these sub-populations is being updated. Preliminary scientific results indicate the Viscount Melville Sound sub-population is likely stable and Indigenous Knowledge indicates it has increased. Little is known about the fourth sub-population, Arctic Basin. 

The most serious long-term threat to Polar Bears in the NWT is habitat change due to climate change – especially reduction in sea ice. This will have direct and indirect effects on Polar Bears, including loss of habitat, ecosystem-level changes affecting the availability of prey, separation from denning areas on land, contaminants from the environment, expansion of human activities, and increased likelihood of human-bear interactions. 

Additional management concerns include increased shipping, pollution and contamination, research impacts, disease and parasites.

In 2008, COSEWIC assessed Polar Bear as a species of Special Concern in Canada because of population declines in some Canadian sub-populations and concerns about the impact of climate change on sea ice. This status was re-examined and confirmed in 2018. Polar Bears were listed as Special Concern in Canada under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2011.

The NWT Species at Risk Committee assessed Polar Bear as a species of Special Concern in the NWT in 2012 and again in 2021. In 2014, Polar Bears were listed as Special Concern in the NWT under the Species at Risk (NWT) Act and another 10-year term was added in 2022. An Inuvialuit Settlement Region Polar Bear Joint Management Plan and a Framework for Action for Management of Polar Bears in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region have been completed. A progress report (2018-2021) is available here.

In the NWT, all human-caused mortality of Polar Bears is strictly managed through a quota system recommended by the wildlife co-management boards. Inuvialuit have exclusive rights to hunt Polar Bears in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region but can transfer that right to other hunters. The Inuvialuit have Polar Bear management agreements with the Inuit of Nunavut and the Inupiat of Alaska. 

Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), any international shipment of Polar Bears or their parts requires a permit. There is also an International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears which was signed in 1976.

Progress Reports