Photo: Ian Stirling, one of the world’s foremost polar bear experts has been awarded the $50,000 Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research. (Photo courtesy Ian Stirling)

A scientist who has spent more than 40 years studying the behaviour and ecology of Arctic marine mammals and is renowned as one of the world’s foremost polar bear experts has been awarded the $50,000 Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research.

Ian Stirling, a professor in the department of biological sciences at the University of Alberta, has spent much of his career focusing on the relationships between polar bears, seals and sea ice conditions. In 1999, he published an influential study that confirmed for the first time that the negative impact of climate warming on polar bears in Western Hudson Bay was statistically significant. He also conducted a long-term study of polar bears and seals in the southern Beaufort Sea, documenting for the first time a distinct cycle in the population of ringed seals, which young polar bears rely upon for food.

“The consequences of climate warming are going to be severe for any mammals that depend on ice, including polar bears, some species of seals, small Arctic whales, and other species further down the food chain, such as arctic cod,” said Stirling, who was presented with the prize at ArcticNet’s 2015 Annual Scientific Meeting, the largest annual gathering of Arctic researchers in Canada, on Dec. 9 in Vancouver. “The study of polar marine mammals, such as polar bears and seals, is essential to the conservation and management of both the Arctic and Antarctic marine ecosystems, which in turn comprise a crucial component of the total environment of the Earth.”

“I am honoured to be recognized by The W. Garfield Weston Foundation,” Stirling said, “which I greatly admire for its commitment to northern science, its strong leadership, and for funding important Canadian Arctic research.”

Stirling is the fourth recipient of the prize, which is the largest of its kind and was created in 2011 to recognize a leading northern researcher in natural science. Past awardees are Serge Payette (2011), Louis Fortier (2012), John Smol (2013) and Charles Krebs (2014).

Read Canadian Geographic’s December 2012 feature story about polar bears, which features Ian Stirling.

From left to right: Geordie Dalglish, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation; Dr. Ian Stirling; Dr. Monique Bernier, ACUNS; Garfield Mitchell, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation. (Photo: Arctic Net)