Human intrusion into the Arctic via intensive whaling and sealing hunts, started in the 17th and 18th centuries led to extensive hunting of polar bears. Exploitation of the minerals and fossil fuels in the Arctic pose a continuing threat through habitat disturbance and degradation from pollution associated with these industries.
The polar bear is circumpolar in distribution, inhabiting all Arctic seas and coastlines. It is found on the pack ice off the Alaskan coast north of the Bering Strait, off the coast of Greenland and along the Eurasian Arctic coast from Spitsbergen to Wrangell Island. Rare stragglers reach Iceland. Polar bears frequent the southern broken edge of the arctic ice pack, avoiding solidly frozen sea ice and the open seas. Some live inland in coniferous forest areas. Polar bears occur in separate populations with limited exchange between them. Indigenous populations may hunt them legally.
Thalarctos maritimus is considered as "Lower Risk" sub-category "conservation dependent" by the IUCN. CITES lists the species as "Appendix 2.