Secret Polar Bear Population Discovered in Greenland


| LAST UPDATE 06/20/2022

By Stanley Wickens
polar bear population discovery
Philip Dien via Getty Images

It's no secret that the Earth's population of polar bears is decreasing due to climate change. But this time around, we have some good news that has scientists feeling a bit more optimistic about the future of the species...

A secret population of polar bears has been discovered in Greenland, in a habitat once deemed impossible for these creatures. Throughout the majority of the year, this region lacks the floating sea ice that the species uses to hunt. However, to the surprise of scientists who made the recent discovery, this population of bears has been secretly thriving in the area for hundreds of years. These animals live on steep slopes around coastal inlets, where glaciers give them direct access to the ocean, in the absence of sea ice. Researchers now believe there may be a chance the species could adapt to melting sea ice caused by global warming.

polar bear glacier population
Scott Frew / 500px via Getty Images

However, researchers warn that climate change remains a very serious threat to the species at large. "Glacier ice may help small numbers of polar bears survive for longer periods under climate warming, but it is not available for the vast majority of polar bears," lead researcher Kristin Laidre, a wildlife scientist at Polar Science Center at the University of Washington, explained in Live Science. Scientists noted that this is because this type of glacier is only available to a small group of other polar bears.

Until recently, scientists had known of about 19 polar bear subpopulations on the planet, one of which spans 1,988 miles (3,200 kilometers) across the eastern coast of Greenland. But after monitoring this group closely and analyzing their behavior and genetic samplings, they came to the conclusion that it comprised of two distinct populations. "We present the first evidence for a genetically distinct and functionally isolated group of polar bears in southeast Greenland, which meet [the] criteria for recognition as the world's 20th polar bear subpopulation," the researchers wrote in their new study. The new group consists of 300 individuals, but is the most genetically diverse of all 20 populations in the Arctic. This discovery certainly gives us a glimmer of hope that some polar bear populations may be able to adapt to the effects of climate change. However, "loss of Arctic sea ice is still the primary threat to all polar bears," Laidre explained. "This study does not change that." But we do hope the situation of these polar bears improves in the near future...