“In 2007, University of Iceland geologist Ólafur Ingólfsson, co-author on the new study, found a fossilized polar bear jawbone on the Arctic Ocean island of Svalbard. He estimated its age at between 110,000 and 130,000 years. Until then, the species was thought to be about 90,000 years old. The new estimate meant they’d survived the Eemian, a period of globally high temperatures that started 130,000 years ago, ending the next-to-last Ice Age, and lasted for 15,000 years until the last Ice Age began. Earth scientists consider the Eemian a preview of climate changes expected in the next few centuries.”
According to the DNA evidence in the study, the polar bears are likely the same shape and size as the polar bears who adapted during the Eemian period by finding new habitats. The DNA was uncovered by examining the left mandible or jaw bone of a rare fossil found in Norway in 2004. According to the researcher, even finding such a rare fossil was “magnificent”. As always, the scientists are cautioning that this might not be conclusive and that further research may be needed because there are significant differences between the polar bears of the past.
Beyond that, the researchers are seriously considering the ramifications of their findings in terms of conservation for the polar bear species.
Currently, the majority of the polar bear population lives in Canada, with Russia being the next habitat.
In addition to the threat of global warming, some polar bear populations are declining due to illegal hunting, which was much more of a threat during the 1950’s. Other detriments to the health and survival of the polar bears include oil and gas exploration and toxic substances. Polar bear hunting and conservation has been regulated by “The International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears”, which was signed in Oslo, Norway in 1973 and was signed by five nations.