Federal report recognizes low number of polar bears
WASHINGTON – In response to a complaint filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Biden administration today released long-awaited population reports for polar bears in Alaska and sea otters in California.
Today’s stock assessment report is official recognition by the US Fish and Wildlife Service that the southern Beaufort Sea population of polar bears may number at least 780 bears. The Service’s latest stock assessment report, released in 2010, estimated this population to be around 1,526 animals, although other research has suggested it was as low as 900 animals.
Bears in the southern Beaufort Sea – the world’s most endangered polar bear population – are threatened by proposed oil and gas drilling in the Western Arctic and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They suffer from poor body condition and reduced reproductive performance due to climate change, according to the stock assessment report released today.
“This report recognizes that the polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea are in great difficulty and that the Biden administration should take this into account,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the oceans program at the Center. “Climate change has polar bears on the ropes, and they desperately need protection from pollution from the oil industry. If we are to have any chance of saving these animals and their sea ice home, officials at Biden must block oil drilling in the Arctic.
The Center and other groups have challenged these drilling plans in court.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has also released new population estimates for California sea otters and polar bears in the Chukchi / Bering seas. The agency finds that the Chukchi / Bering Sea polar bear population, also threatened by climate change, consists of around 2,000 bears. California’s sea otter population is approximately 2,962 otters.
Changing sea otter populations in California could also complicate ExxonMobil’s current efforts to restart its three dormant offshore drilling rigs near Santa Barbara.
Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service is required to prepare stock assessment reports for all marine mammals under its jurisdiction, including polar bears, sea otters, walruses. and manatees. Despite this clear direction, the agency had not updated stock assessments for years, and some have not been updated for more than a decade.
The Center sued the federal government in February for failing to update population analyzes of two stocks of polar bears, Pacific walruses, three stocks of northern sea otters in Alaska, and the otter stock of South Sea in California and two stocks of West Indian manatees around Florida and Puerto Rico.
Accurate stock assessments are essential for the management of marine mammal populations and must be based on the best available scientific information.
Stock assessment reports are used to protect marine mammals by analyzing threats and setting sustainable levels of serious human injury and mortality to marine mammals. They also guide measures to manage commercial fisheries, oil and gas activities, military activities, coastal development and other activities that may harm marine mammals.