Aerial surveys suggest long-term stability in the seasonally ice-free Foxe Basin (Nunavut) polar bear population

Seth P Stapleton, Elizabeth Peacock, David Garshelis

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33 Scopus citations


Significant information gaps exist regarding the status of polar bears, especially with respect to the impacts of climate change, across large portions of the Arctic. To obtain an updated abundance estimate for the Foxe Basin population, we conducted comprehensive aerial surveys during the 2009 and 2010 ice-free seasons, when bears are confined to land. We sampled with mark-recapture distance sampling protocols on inland and coastal transects and surveyed small islands and remnant ice floes. We observed 816 and 1,003 bears in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Although detection functions differed substantially between years, estimates were consistent between analytical methods and years. Averaging four estimates (two from each year) yielded 2,585 (2,096-3,189) bears, which is similar to an estimate from the 1990s. This result, along with robust cub production, suggests a stable and healthy population despite deteriorating sea ice conditions. Collectively, this and other recent on-land surveys provide a framework for implementing aerial surveys elsewhere. Although aerial surveys do not yield estimates of vital rates or population growth, they enable more rapid and frequent monitoring than mark-recapture. Integrating them in long-term monitoring programs will require consideration of ancillary data to infer status and facilitate setting harvest levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-201
Number of pages21
JournalMarine Mammal Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Society for Marine Mammalogy.


  • Abundance estimation
  • Aerial survey
  • Arctic
  • Distance sampling
  • Double-observer
  • Line transect
  • Marine mammals


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