Polar bear population now 22,600-32,000 – when tallied by nation

UPDATE FEBRUARY 19, 2014The misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic is now GONE (as of January 31, 2014). A new 2013 status table is offered by the PBSG here. It has detailed text explanations and harvest information, with references, hyperlinked to each subpopulation entry (“Press the subpopulation hyperlink and more information will appear“) and may have replaced the “State of the Polar Bear” graphic that the PBSG commissioned for upwards of US$50,000, although the PBSG website says it is being “updated” [A pdf copy of the 2013 colour table is here, and my commentary on it is here.] I have left the original post as is, below.

This afternoon I came across some startling information. [updated here, here from Feb. 10, 2013, and here from April 1, 2013]

According to a dynamic summary report on the home page of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group website  called State of the Polar Bear, there are now 22,600-32,000 polar bears worldwide, when tallied by nation.

Here are the numbers, by nation, listed in the State of the Polar Bear summary report (see map below):
Canada                              13,300-17,500
USA                                   1,200-1,800
Russia                               2,700-4,800
Norway                             1,900-3,600
Greenland
(Denmark)                        3,5000-4,400
Total                            22,600-32,000

The “Nations” page of the Polar Bear Specialist Group’s “State of the Polar Bear,” a dynamic summary that can be launched from the home page of the IUCN PBSG  http://pbsg.npolar.no/en/dynamic/app/ [published Oct. 15, 2012] Click to enlarge.

The “Nations” page of the Polar Bear Specialist Group’s “State of the Polar Bear,” a dynamic summary that can be launched from the home page of the IUCN PBSG website, http://pbsg.npolar.no/en/ [published Oct. 15, 2012] Click to enlarge.

This is a big change from the 20,000-25,000 that has been touted as the global polar bear population since 2005 (see Aars et al. 2006; Obbard et al. 2010) and my post on polar bear population estimates.
[updated Jan. 9 2013 at 8:20 PST, see end of post]

UPDATE Jan. 7. 2014 – The PBSG has announced that a new population assessment is due later this month, see this January 1 post. The graphic described in this post has moved to the page called “Population information” and the official estimate of 20,000-25,000 is no longer present. There was no press release associated with this announcement.

I found nothing to explain the difference in these two estimates in the State of the Polar Bear feature – or elsewhere on the PBSG website. Indeed, the “population status” page of the PBSG website still says: “The total number of polar bears worldwide is estimated to be 20,000 – 25,000.”

In the State of the Polar Bear feature, there is a “subpopulations” map where  population estimates are given for each of the 19 recognized subpopulations. Surprisingly, 7 subpopulations are given an estimate of 0 (that’s zero). Greenland, all of Russia, and Norway have no estimates given on the subpopulation map. These three countries cover more than half of the Arctic! However, these same countries are given credit for 8,100-12,800 on the population-by-Nations page. [In addition, two Canadian subpopulations - Foxe Basin and Viscount-Melville – also get a zero on the subpopulations page while the total for Canada on the population-by-Nations page is substantial]

I have never seen an estimate of 22,600-32,000 for polar bears given before – where did these numbers come from?

One explanation is that despite the PBSG insisting that it has no valid population estimates for Russia, Greenland and Norway, it must have. If it didn’t, why produce a map listing polar bear populations by nation in the first place?

Suggesting that Russia, Greenland and Norway have no polar bears (i.e. zero) would be patently untrue. So the PBSG had to provide polar bear population estimates for these three nations.

Apparently, the PBSG were confident enough of their population estimates for Russia, Greenland and Norway to commit these numbers to their “State of the Polar Bear” summary that’s featured on the front page of their website.

If there could be as many as 32,000 polar bears worldwide, why have we not heard of this before? Is this another example of data being kept secret?[see previous discussion here and here]. Or is something else going on?

UPDATE
Apparently, there was a special meeting of the PBSG held last October (2012), see below, and I wonder if it had anything to do with this? I’ve copied the text of the press release from the website below, as well as the preliminary agenda [emphasis below is mine].

PBSG members convene in Oslo October 24-27

pbsg logo

The IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group will convene in Oslo for an extraordinary and exclusive members-only meeting October 24-27. There is a need for the group to evaluate internal procedures and a variety of additional internal matters in order to be able to respond to future challenges and expectations. An imperiled focal species, political sensitivities and an increasing media focus have made the group’s work much more labour intensive during the last decade. Due to these pressures, members will meet to discuss how the group will cope with the new landscape.

This is an extraordinary members-only meeting, NOT the group’s ordinary 16th meeting, which will be planned for next year. The upcoming meeting in Oslo will NOT discuss the status of subpopulations, but will mainly be concerned with internal matters.

Read the preliminary agenda here [copied below as a jpeg file]. Many interesting topics on this agenda, including item #10.

Copy of the preliminary agenda given for the three-day meeting of the Polar Bear Specialist Group (24-27 Oct. 2012), as provided on their website.

Copy of the preliminary agenda given for the three-day meeting of the Polar Bear Specialist Group (held 24-27 Oct. 2012), as provided on their website.

References
Aars, J., Lunn, N. J. and Derocher, A.E. (eds.) 2006. Polar Bears: Proceedings of the 14th Working Meeting of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group, 20-24 June 2005, Seattle, Washington, USA. Occasional Paper of the IUCN Species Survival Commission 32. IUCN, Gland (Switzerland) and Cambridge (UK). http://pbsg.npolar.no/en/meetings/

Obbard, M.E., Theimann, G.W., Peacock, E. and DeBryn, T.D. (eds.) 2010.
Polar Bears: Proceedings of the 15th meeting of the Polar Bear Specialists Group IUCN/SSC, 29 June-3 July, 2009, Copenhagen, Denmark. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge UK, IUCN. http://pbsg.npolar.no/en/meetings/

PBSG website feature “The State of the Polar Bear” accessed by me on Jan. 8 2013, published Monday October 15, 2012 by Dag Vongraven. [link still good, Jan. 7 2014]

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