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Kristin Laidre

Principal Oceanographer

Assistant Professor, Fisheries





Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center

Kristin Laidre's Website



2000-present and while at APL-UW

Survey-based assessment of the frequency and potential impacts of recreation on polar bears

Rode, K.D., and 12 others including K.L. Laidre, "Survey-based assessment of the frequency and potential impacts of recreation on polar bears," Biol. Conserv., 227, 121-132, doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2018.09.008, 2018.

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1 Nov 2018

Conservation plans for polar bears (Ursus maritimus) typically cannot prescribe management actions to address their primary threat: sea ice loss associated with climate warming. However, there may be other stressors that compound the negative effects of sea ice loss which can be mitigated. For example, Arctic tourism has increased concurrent with polar bears increasingly using terrestrial habitats, which creates the potential for increased human-bear interactions. Little is known about the types, frequency, or potential impacts of recreation. We conducted a Delphi survey among experts who live and work in polar bear habitats, followed by an internet-based survey to which 47 managers, tour operators, community members, and scientists contributed. Participants identified viewing-based recreation as increasing and affecting the largest proportion of bears within subpopulations that come ashore during the ice-free season. Survey respondents suggested that negative effects of viewing, including displacement and habituation, could be reduced by restricting human use areas and distances between bears and people. Killing of bears in defense was associated more with camping or hunting for other species than other recreations, and may be mitigated with deterrents. Snowmobiling was the most common recreation across the polar bears' range, and reportedly caused some den abandonment and displacement. However, respondents estimated that <10% of polar bears are exposed to most types of recreation and <50% surmised any negative impacts. Nevertheless, mitigating some of the negative impacts identified in this study may become increasingly important as polar bears cope with sea ice loss.

Historical and potential future importance of large whales as food for polar bears

Laidre, K.L., I. Stirling, J.A. Estes, A. Kochnev, and J. Roberts, "Historical and potential future importance of large whales as food for polar bears," Front. Ecol. Environ., 16, 515-524, doi:10.1002/fee.1963, 2018.

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9 Oct 2018

Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are expected to be adversely impacted by a warming Arctic due to melting of the sea‐ice platform from which they hunt ice‐breeding seals. We evaluated the hypothesis that scavenging on stranded large whale carcasses may have facilitated polar bear survival through past interglacial periods during which sea‐ice was limited by analyzing: (1) present‐day scavenging by polar bears on large whale carcasses; (2) energy values of large whale species; and (3) the ability of polar bears, like the brown bears (Ursus arctos) from which they evolved, to quickly store large amounts of lipids and to fast for extended periods. We concluded that scavenging on large whale carcasses likely facilitated survival of polar bears in past interglacial periods when access to seals was reduced. In a future, ice‐impoverished Arctic, whale carcasses are less likely to provide nutritional refuge for polar bears because overharvesting by humans has greatly reduced large whale populations, carcass availability is geographically limited, and climate‐induced sea‐ice loss is projected to occur at a more rapid pace than polar bears have experienced at any previous time in their evolutionary history.

Prevalence of antibodies against Brucella app. in West Greenland polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and East Greenland muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus)

Sonne, C., and 21 others including K. Laidre, "Prevalence of antibodies against Brucella app. in West Greenland polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and East Greenland muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus)," Polar Biol., 41, 1671–1680, doi:10.1007/s00300-018-2307-4, 2018.

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1 Sep 2018

Zoonotic infections transmitted from terrestrial and marine mammals to humans in European Arctic are of unknown significance, despite considerable potential for transmission due to local hunt and a rapidly changing environment. As an example, infection with Brucella bacteria may have significant impact on human health due to consumption of raw meat or otherwise contact with tissues and fluids of infected game species such as muskoxen and polar bears. Here, we present serological results for Baffin Bay polar bears (Ursus maritimus) (n = 96) and North East Greenland muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) (n = 32) for antibodies against Brucella spp. The analysis was a two-step trial initially using the Rose Bengal Test (RBT), followed by confirmative competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays of RBT-positive samples. No muskoxen had antibodies against Brucella spp., while antibodies were detected in six polar bears (6.25%) rendering a seroprevalence in line with previous findings in other Arctic regions. Seropositivity was not related to sex, age or biometrics i.e. size and body condition. Whether Brucella spp. antibodies found in polar bears were due to either prey spill over or true recurrent Brucella spp. infections is unknown. Our results therefore highlight the importance of further research into the zoonotic aspects of Brucella spp. infections, and the impact on wildlife and human health in the Arctic region.

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In The News

As Arctic ship traffic increases, narwhals and other unique animals are at risk

The Conversation, Donna Hauser, Harry Stern, and Kristin Laidre

In a recent study, the authors assessed the vulnerability of 80 populations of Arctic marine mammals during the "open-water" period of September, when sea ice is at its minimum extent. They report that more than half (53 percent) of these populations — including walruses and several types of whales — would be exposed to vessels in Arctic sea routes. This could lead to collisions, noise disturbance, or changes in the animals' behavior.

9 Nov 2018

Polar bears may soon feast on whale carcasses. Global warming is to blame

Smithsonian, Katherine J. Wu

This scavenging strategy saved sleuths of bears in the past, but it’s not sustainable as temperatures climb at unprecedented rates.

10 Oct 2018

Polar bears gorged on whale carcasses to survive past warm periods, but strategy won’t suffice as climate warms

UW News, Michelle Ma

A new study led by the University of Washington found that although dead whales are still valuable sources of fat and protein for some polar bears, this resource will likely not be enough to sustain most bear populations in the future when the Arctic becomes ice-free in summers, which is likely to occur by 2040 due to climate change.

9 Oct 2018

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