Species Extinction

decline in habitat area of the narwhal is expected by 2100
of Arctic shorebird species experience population decline
up to 56%
decline in reindeer population over the past 20 years

Marine mammals

Polar bears hunt ringed and bearded seals on sea ice, for example. The premature thawing of sea ice gives polar bears less time to hunt, threatening their food security. The repercussions go well beyond this: global warming is affecting everything from polar bears’ reproduction rate to their interaction with human beings (as emaciated polar bears have been known to make their ways to human settlements in search of food).

Pacific walruses also rely on sea ice for food security, using floes as both resting grounds and a platform from which to forage dense offshore clam beds. Over recent years, tens of thousands of walruses have found themselves stranded on Alaska’s beaches in autumn in the absence of sea ice to help them get back to the shallow water in which they forage.

The habitat of the narwhal – another threatened species – is expected to see a 25 percent decline in area by 2100, also shifting north by a latitude of 1.6 degrees as sea temperatures rise and sea ice becomes scarcer. The increasing accessibility of the Arctic with the removal of physical barriers to navigation such as sea ice also exposes narwhals to additional risks, including competition and predation from other species, such as killer whales, and greater encroachment by humans.

Terrestrial mammals

Also on land, reindeer, both migratory herds of caribou in North America and wild reindeer in Russia, have seen significant population declines of up to 56 percent over the past two decades. A 2018 Arctic Program study revealed that five herds in Alaska-Canada have seen a population decline of 90 percent and "show no sign of recovery."

Arctic foxes have also been classified as critically endangered in parts of Fennoscandia due to habitat loss, increased predator activity, and competition from invasive species.


Arctic fish are an important source of food for the 44 seabird species and 59 shorebirds species that breed in the Arctic. A 2021 report on the state of terrestrial biodiversity in the Arctic revealed that 20 percent of 88 evaluated shorebird species (this number included migratory species from other parts of the world) was experiencing population decline. One of these species is considered "nearly threatened," ten are considered "threatened," while two are considered "critically endangered."

Protection measures

The importance of environmental protection is ingrained in the Ottawa Declaration – the founding document of the Arctic Council, whose eight member states are committed to conserving the Arctic environment and its ecosystems, maintaining biodiversity, and finding sustainable ways to use natural resources through science-backed action and continuous monitoring. The Arctic Council’s Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna working group (CAFF) is just one example of a body tasked with assessing Arctic biodiversity.

Photo: LPeak/Photogenica

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