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.

Polar bears of western Hudson Bay still on the ice at third week June

According to the tracker map provided by Andrew Derocher (University of Alberta), all of the western Hudson Bay polar bear females that still have operational satellite collars (deployed in 2019) are still out on the ice of Hudson Bay. The Explore.org live video cam that sits on the shore of Wapusk National Park just south of Churchill has been capturing images of caribou and birds but so far, no polar bears. Last year, the first bear seen onshore by the cameras (shown in the video) was on 13 July.

It wasn’t until a month later that more bears were seen: the fat mother and cub in the screencap below were spotted on 18 July 2020 and the last of the collared bears didn’t come ashore until late August:

This year at 21 June, only 6 collars still operating but only one of them is anywhere close to shore yet (courtesy Andrew Derocher via twitter, below):

That ice in the middle of the bay is still primarily very thick first year ice, as the chart for this third week of June shows (below):

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Polar bear habitat update and the progress of breakup on Hudson Bay

At mid-month, there is still an abundance of thick first year ice over much of Hudson Bay, suggesting that – yet again – this will not be an early breakup year for Western Hudson Bay polar bears. The early breakup years in the past (like 2010) that generated all kinds of panic amongst polar bear specialists have not developed into ever-continuing declining trend (Lunn et al. 2016) or another abrupt step-change like there was in 1998/99 (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017).

In the last few years conditions have been more like they were in the 1980s than the prophesied catastrophe we were promised. I don’t see a ‘tipping point’ for Hudson Bay; do you see a tipping point?

The more light green areas of thinner ice present, as there was in 2010 (below), the earlier breakup is apt to be:

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Polar bear habitat in Canada at the first week of June sees widening of critical polynyas

Winds primarily cause the apparent sea ice ‘breakup’ in late spring through the widening of persistent polynyas and shore leads. This year the development of critical open water areas in Canada (which are important feeding areas for polar bears) is on track with previous years in most areas, although there is a lot of year-to-year variability.

Several prominent polynas also opened up along the Russian coast and Northeast Greenland: see the entire Arctic condition at 7 June 2021 below, courtesy NSIDC:

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New survey estimates 10x as many polar bears in Russian section of Chukchi Sea as in USA portion

A joint US/Russian aerial survey has estimated that a minimum of 3,435 polar bears (but possibly as many as 5,444) likely inhabited the Chukchi Sea in 2016, quite a bit more than a previous study that estimated a population size of 2,937 the same year (which used data from one small US area extrapolated to the entire region).

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Activist heads explode as USFWS says oil activities pose minimal risk to polar bears in AK

Apparently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under Joe Biden agrees with my conclusion that oil company activities in Alaska pose minimal risk to polar bears (Crockford 2019, 2020, 2021). Although this ruling is not yet final, they have proposed that oil exploration and extraction activities on the North Slope of Alaska can proceed over the next five years.

After noting that no major offshore oil spills have ever taken place in the Alaskan portion of the Beaufort Sea (see map below) and that all spills to date have been on land with no impact on polar bears, the proposed rule in the 200+ page assessment states:

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Surprising sea ice thickness across the Arctic is good news for polar bears

This year near the end of May the distribution of thickest sea ice (3.5-5m/11.5-16.4 ft – or more) is a bit surprising, given that the WMO has suggested we may be only five years away from a “dangerous tipping point” in global temperatures. There is the usual and expected band of thick ice in the Arctic Ocean across northern Greenland and Canada’s most northern islands but there are also some patches in the peripheral seas (especially north of Svalbard, southeast Greenland, Foxe Basin, Hudson Strait, Chukchi Sea, Laptev Sea). This is plenty of sea ice for polar bear hunting at this time of year (mating season is pretty much over) and that thick ice will provide summer habitat for bears that choose to stay on the ice during the low-ice season: not even close to an emergency for polar bears.

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Spring polynyas in the Arctic then and now as feeding areas for hungry polar bears

Patches of open water in the Arctic that develop in the spring, including polynyas and widening shore leads, are largely due to the actions of wind and currents on mobile pack ice rather than ice melt. Contrary to concerns expressed about possible negative implications of these early patches of open water, these areas have always been critical congregation areas for Arctic seals and are therefore important feeding areas for polar bears in late spring.

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Wandering polar bears are the new starving polar bears, falsely blamed on climate change

Back in 2017, we famously had National Geographic falsely blaming a starving polar bear on climate change but since then we have been inundated (relatively speaking) with stories of ‘wandering’ bears sighted far from Arctic coastlines. These wandering bears are oddities to be sure but are not in any way an indicator of melting Arctic sea ice or lost habitat, as The Times (UK) has claimed in this latest example (Polar bear treks 1,500 miles south as Arctic hunting zone melts away).

Similar to three other recent examples, from 2019 – in Alaska in winter, in Chukotka in early spring, and Siberia in late spring – this month’s example cannot rationally be blamed on lack of sea ice. This year’s bear took at least eight weeks to travel from the Lena River Delta area of the Laptev Sea to a small village in Yakusk, Russia where it was captured on 11 May, shown below on the map of the route it took included in the story at The Daily Mail (11 May).

From The Daily Mail, 11 May.
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How are polar bears doing 15 years after the IUCN declared them ‘vulnerable’ to extinction?

The beginning of this month was the 15th anniversary of the day the IUCN declared polar bears ‘vulnerable’ to extinction because of climate change, the first time such a designation had ever been made. It was based on the opinion of polar bear specialists who examined the vague information available at the time and decided that in 45 years the bears might be in serious trouble. This decision changed the way the IUCN assessed species risk and led to mass confusion for the general public, who falsely assumed polar bear numbers had already declined by a huge amount.

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A fabulous new book in the works

Blogging has been slow in part because I’m working on a new book that I’m really excited about. At this point, I can say that it features one of the species pictured below. But which will it be: science or fiction?