Between 1979 and 1987, 12 percent of bear sightings were associated with no ice. Between 1997 and 2005, however, 90 percent of bear sightings were associated with no ice, said Karyn Rode, a polar bear biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, Alaska.
As sea ice disappeared, more bears were seen near shore in the southern Beaufort Sea, Rode said in a recent issue of the journal Arctic. Many scientists blame the warmer temperatures associated with climate change for the disappearance of the sea ice.
The number of bears sighted steadily near shore increased from 138 bears between 1979 and 1987, to 271 bears between 1988 and 1996, and 468 bears between 1997 and 2005, Rode said.
The bear observations and ice conditions were recorded as part of a bowhead whale survey conducted annually in the southern Beaufort Sea.