Global polar bear abundance ‘best guess’ estimate is 39,000 (26,000-58,000)

This is a sticky post link to my March 2019 essay on polar bear numbers at 2018. View it here.

Ten fat polar bears filmed raiding a stalled Russian garbage truck

From the Siberian Times today (20 October) is a story with few facts but a fabulous video of six fat adults and four fat cubs as they set siege to a stalled open garbage truck in the Russian Arctic. It may have been filmed on Novaya Zemlya but that has not been confirmed.

Of course, Novaya Zemlya has had previous problems with bears habituated to garbage, most famously an extended incident in 2019 that was perversely blamed on climate change.

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Some surprises in polar bear sea ice habitat at mid-October 2020

Arctic sea ice has been growing steadily since the minimum extent was reached a month ago, with shorefast ice now developing along the Russian and Alaskan coastlines as ice cover expands in the Central Canadian Arctic. So while it’s true that the main pack of Arctic ice is far from the Russian shoreline, rapidly developing shorefast ice will allow bears to begin hunting seals long before ice in the central Arctic Basin reaches the Siberian shore, as they do in Western and Southern Hudson Bay every fall.

Cropped sea ice extent at 15 October 2020 (Day 289), NSIDC Masie.

And speaking of Western Hudson Bay, it’s a very slow season around Churchill for problem polar bears (photo below) – the quietest mid-October for the Polar Bear Alert Program in the last five years and perhaps the quietest in decades (which I could say for sure if I had the records but I do not).

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S. Beaufort polar bear population stable since 2010 not declining new report reveals

A just-released report on the latest count for the Alaska portion of the Southern Beaufort subpopulation reveals that numbers have been stable since 2010 despite claims the population has continued to decline. However, the study also has a very odd feature: 2012 had the highest population estimate over the decade of 2006-2015 yet also had the lowest survival of all age classes since 2001.

Healthy polar bear male at Kaktovik, Alaska on the Southern Beaufort Sea, September 2019, Ed Boudreau photo, with permission.

However, what is essentially good news about polar bear health and survival in the Southern Beaufort has so far been glossed over by the media because the report prominently includes estimates of polar bear dens on land in areas of potential oil exploration, a highly politicized topic. Accordingly, the Washington Post (picked up by other outlets) focused a statement in the paper that “long-term persistence of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) is threatened by sea-ice loss due to climate change” and on the denning issue rather than the new population count.  As far as I am aware, no other population estimate report has included such distracting information.

Recent claim of a polar bear expert [my bold]:

In 2015…the polar bear population in the Beaufort Sea had declined by 40% over the previous decade. “We can only anticipate that those declines have continued.” Steven Amstrup, 29 September 2019.

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Polar bear damage to parked military helicopter shows their immense power

A polar bear punched out the window of a parked Royal Canadian Air Force search and rescue helicopter on 16 September in northern Labrador, which should be a reminder that these bears are extremely powerful and potentially dangerous.

If you ever thought you would be safe in a cabin or vehicle if a polar bear really wanted in, you might want to think again and remember that residents of the Arctic put up with this risk of polar bear attack, intrusion and damage all year long (Crockford 2019). And it’s not because the bears are simply ‘curious’.

Two photos below from Svalbard: of a bear that climbed onboard a boat moored offshore in 2019 while its occupants had lunch on the beach (damaging the hydraulic steering, vinyl seats, heating system, canopy, and an inflatable raft), and of a cabin ransacked by a polar bear in 2017 after it ripped the door off its hinges. Since it is my understanding that cabin owners in Svalbard are not permitted to leave stored food in unoccupied buildings, the attractants in these empty cabins must be other things that contain oil, like cleaning products, vinyl furniture, and candles.

 

 

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Polar bear researchers try very hard to make good news in Kane Basin sound trivial

In an astonishing display of under-selling good news, the authors of a new paper announcing that Kane Basin polar bears are doing well have avoided mentioning that the population increased substantially since the 1990s and insist that any benefits will be short-lived.

Kane Basin population size at 2013 was 357 (range 221 – 493), up from 224 (range 145 – 303) in 1997. That’s an increase of 59% based on a 2016 recalculation of the 1997 population estimate of 164 (Crockford 2020) – it would have been a 118% increase otherwise.

Money quote: “We find that a small number of the world’s polar bears that live in multiyear ice regions are temporarily benefiting from climate change.” Kristen Laidre, lead author of Transient benefits of climate change for a high‐Arctic polar bear (Ursus maritimus) subpopulation

Both the paper and the press release also claim, despite acknowledging that there is no evidence for this conclusion (“the duration of these benefits is unknown“), that this good news will probably not last because computer models say beneficial conditions might not persist beyond the end of the century.

As always, if you’d like to see this paper, use the ‘contact me’ page to request a copy (it’s paywalled).

UPDATE 25 September 2020: News just out from Nunavut this morning, “New Nunavut polar bear surveys point to “currently healthy” populations in M’Clintock Channel and Boothia Bay.” The survey report for M’Clintock Channel (mentioned in the post below) and neighbouring Gulf of Bothia has still not been made public but this announcement suggests that population numbers in these subpopulations have also increased by some amount that will be similarly discounted as unimportant.

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Potential impact of the second-lowest sea ice minimum since 1979 on polar bear survival

The annual summer sea ice minimum in the Arctic has been reached and while the precise extent has not yet been officially determined, it’s clear this will be the ‘second lowest’ minimum (after 2012) since 1979. However, as there is no evidence that polar bears were harmed by the 2012 ‘lowest’ summer sea ice this year’s ‘second-lowest’ is unlikely to have any negative effect.

This is not surprising since even 2nd lowest leaves summer ice coverage in the Arctic at the level sea ice experts wrongly predicted in 2005 wouldn’t be seen until 2050 (ACIA 2005; Amstrup et al. 2007; Wang and Overland 2012) and this is the same amount of summer sea ice that polar bear experts incorrectly predicted would cause 2/3 of all polar bears to disappear. My book explains how it all went wrong: The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened

In this summary of how polar bears have been doing since the the lowest sea ice minimum in 2012, I show that contrary to all predictions, polar bears have been thriving despite reduced summer ice in the Barents, Chukchi and Southern Beaufort Seas, and because of unexpectedly short ice-free seasons in Hudson Bay and less multiyear ice in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

UPDATE 21 September (10:20 PT): NSIDC has just announced the Arctic sea ice extent minimum (preliminary) for 2020 at 3.74 mkm2 reached on 15 September. See full report here.

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Churchill problem polar bear report for week 3 and a triplet litter of cubs spotted

Courtesy the Town of Churchill:

Also, note that a mother with a litter of triplets spotted along the coast of Wapusk National Park (just east and south of Churchill) in good condition, 15 September 2020 (see photo below). Biologist Nick Lunn falsely claimed in 2018 that no triplet litters had been born in Western Hudson Bay since 1996 – a correction made later claimed Lunn meant there hasn’t been any triplet litters seen in the fall, which was also not true in 2017 or in 2020:

Compare weekly stats above for this year to a few previous years at the second week in September:

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Attenborough’s new attempt to scare people about polar bear extinction and walrus deaths

In a new book and Netflix film, Sir David Attenborough again presents false information about future polar bear survival and walrus deaths. An excerpt from Attenborough’s forthcoming book (A Life On Our Planet) has been published in the Daily Mail (12 September), called “End of the polar bear by the 2030s, another major pandemic in the 2080s… and a sixth mass extinction by 2100: SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH reveals how those born today could witness these scenarios unless we save the planet“.  As his upcoming documentary has the same title as the book, this excerpt forewarns of what’s in the film. Attenborough falsely claims that by 2030 – a short 10 years from now – polar bears will be on their way to extinction and again flogs the lie, exposed last year, that walrus falling to their deaths in Russia a few years ago was due to lack of sea ice. Continue reading

Svalbard male polar bear dies after sedation for research purposes

A 2 year old male polar bear died yesterday (10 September 2020) during the sedation procedure used by Svalbard researchers. Although most polar bear research is on hold this year due to Covid-19, apparently the annual fall research in Svalbard conducted by Norwegian biologists has been able to continue.

See details of this incident below, as screen caps; entire original in English at Polar Journal.   Continue reading

Why the Covid-19 epidemic is essentially over & current PCR testing protocols are pointless

This is a very good short paper on the current state of the Covid-19 epidemic by two UK respiratory disease researchers that is well worth the read, with a good coverage of the problems with models and PCR testing that is encouraging some governments to renew the panic and restrictions initiated back in March.
Svalbard social distancing_keep one polar bear away_icepeople 3 April 2020
Understanding Covid-19 is pertinent to this blog topic, not least because virtually all polar bear field research has been shut down for the year worldwide, with no indications restrictions will be lifted over the next few months: an entire year’s worth of data will be missing for all kinds of studies. Small Arctic communities that traditionally provided essential logistical support for these studies also tend to have a high proportion of vulnerable citizens and so remain closed to the outside world. Restrictions on travel – the border between the US and Canada remains closed to all but essential traffic – and limits on size of gatherings mean that the government response to this illness has severely impacted my public activities.
Have a look at this important referenced essay: I’ve copied the Executive Summary below.

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