Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) Research Initiatives


Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) can provide many useful insights into the behaviour, life history and population trends of polar bears. In general, the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples has been receiving renewed interest across many habitats, as this knowledge often provides information that, historically, has been neglected by western science. In the Arctic, TEK such as Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit traditional knowledge) is especially valuable given the difficulty posed by performing large and long-scale scientific studies up North. Projects to gather TEK from Arctic residents, such as Inuvialuit and Nanuq: A Polar Bear Traditional Knowledge Study, are incredibly valuable, and can be used to help direct polar bear management. 

TEK Knowledge from the Inuvialuit Settlement Region:

Food and Feeding

"I’ve seen polar bear, when I cut them open, a lot of its blubber [has been] rendered already because of the digestion system. I’ve seen duck feathers in the stomachs… When you’re hunting out in open water, there’s always birds out there, seabirds, even in the dead of winter. And unless you’re really hungry, you don’t shoot a seabird out in the ice, because sometimes the bears use them for food. So, in order to show them respect, “No I’m not gonna touch that food that you might need sometime.” Seabirds, like eider ducks, and different ducks… they [polar bears] go from underneath and grab them… bears with grass in their stomach, but I never seen that personally. So, every animal you see, if you open up the stomach to see they got… I’ve seen bits of those plastic garbage bags from a bear that was grabbing something… Remember I told you not to throw those orange peels away [speaking to co-researcher]? That’s garbage we got to bring back… Bear came by and ate it, and [someone] shot it, and there’s orange peels [in the stomach]. So I told her, whatever you leave behind, there’s a good chance a bear will get at it.” 


“In the springtime, when it’s mating season, the big male polar bears could track a female for a long time. They sometimes don’t stop walking until they find a female. After they mate, the male polar bear can sleep for a long time.” 

“Lately, when you see mother and cubs, you see two cubs all the time… This has been a healthy population, I think. Normally I see two cubs instead of one… I don’t recall ever seeing just one. It’s always two. Even in summertime, when you’re driving out on the ice there, when the ice came in, just hunting seals, you run into polar bears with cubs.”


“Any place where it’s deep, good snow, that’s what they always [den]… they check, they dig, looking for deep snow. And then, if there’s not enough, they’ll keep going until they find a really good deep snow.” 

References: Inuvialuit and Nanuq: A Polar Bear Traditional Knowledge Study. Inuviauit Settlement Region, 2015.

See the Inuvialuit Settlement Region Polar Joint Management Plan for more TEK research initiatives.