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

It’s long past time for polar bear specialists to stop holding out for a scientifically accurate global estimate that will never be achieved and determine a reasonable and credible ‘best guess’. Since they have so far refused to do this, I have done it for them. My extrapolated estimate of 39,000 (range 26,000-58,000) at 2018 is not only plausible but scientifically defensible.

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In 2014, the chairman of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) emailed me to say that their global population size number ‘has never been an estimate of total abundance in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand.’

In my new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, I contend that this situation will probably never change, so it’s time to stop holding out for a scientifically accurate global estimate and generate a reasonable and credible ‘best guess’. Recent surveys from several critical polar bear subpopulations have given us the information necessary to do this.

UPDATE: I have made this a sticky post for a while: new posts will appear below.

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Polar Bear Scare Unmasked: The Saga of a Toppled Global Warming Icon [another look]

For almost twenty years, , we’ve endured the shrill media headlines, the hyperbole from conservation organizations, and the simplistic platitudes from scientists as summer sea ice declined dramatically while polar bear numbers rose. This video of mine from two years ago, which deconstructs the scare, is worth another look as International Polar Bear Day approaches with its associated ‘save the polar bear’ rhetoric.

Polar bear habitat at mid-winter as extensive as 2013 & better than 2006

Arctic sea ice at the middle of winter (January-March) is a measure of what’s to come because winter ice is the set-up for early spring, the time when polar bears do most of their feeding on young seals.

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[Mid-winter photos of polar bears are hard to come by, partly because the Arctic is still dark for most hours of the day, it’s still bitterly cold, and scientists don’t venture out to do work on polar bears until the end of March at the earliest]

At 12 February this year, the ice was similar in overall extent to 2013 but higher than 2006.

Sea ice extent 2020 and 2013 and 2006 at 13 Feb 2020_closeup NSIDC interactive
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First-ever polar bear population survey for entire Russian coast planned for 2021-2023

Word that Russia is planning to generate a count of polar bears along its entire Arctic coast within the next few years is good news indeed, as it will resolve a long-standing gap in population estimates that have not been dealt with at all well by the polar bear community. Whether North American and European academics will accept the results of the aerial surveys is another matter entirely, especially if the numbers are higher than they like, which is what happened with the first Russian Kara Sea count in 2013.

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Up first will be the Chukchi and East Siberian Seas in 2021, the Laptev and Kara Seas, in 2022, and the eastern Barents Sea around Franz Josef Land in 2023.

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New paper says Baffin Bay polar bears may have been affected by less summer sea ice

A new paper on Baffin Bay polar bears reports data on body condition and litter sizes collected as part of a major study of the region completed in 2013 compared to sea ice declines since the 1990s; based on a computer model, the authors predict that in 37 years time (if sea ice declines continuously), the incidence of twin litters could “largely disappear.” However, no decline in population numbers was predicted and a critical caveat acknowledges that factors other than changes in sea ice could have affected the body condition and litter size data the authors analyzed, which means the conclusions are scientifically inconclusive.

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Fat polar bear, summer 2012 near Thule, NW Greenland (Baffin Bay subpopulation). Robin Davies photo.

The last (2013) polar bear population survey of Baffin Bay (SWG 2016) generated an estimate of almost 3,000 (2,826; range 2,059-3,593), which means that regardless of some slight changes in body condition and litter size over the last two decades (which may or may not have been caused by loss of sea ice), there are currently a lot of bears in Baffin Bay.

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Attenborough’s Arctic Betrayal: New video reveals that terrorizing young children about climate began with polar bears

My newest video released today summarizes the strong polar bear component to the terrorization of the world’s children about climate change, which began for many youngsters in 2006 with the BBC and Sir David Attenborough’s commentaries about the dire future of polar bears – and continues to this day. Kids get their climate change information from watching Attenborough documentaries at home and in school because they are trusted sources of information, but on the topic of Arctic victims of climate change, that trust has been betrayed.

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Many children and young adults worldwide, including 16 year old Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunburg, have been presented with such emotionally-charged and deceptive information about the Arctic through Attenborough’s productions that many have lost hope for the future. These despondent kids, as well as their parents and teachers, need reminding that while summer sea ice has indeed declined over the last few decades, polar bears, walrus, and other Arctic species are thriving (Aars 2018; Boveng 2016; Crockford 2017, 2018, 2019a, b; Kovacs 2016; Lowry 2015; MacCracken et al. 2017; Obbard et al. 2016; Rode et al. 2014, 2018).

Here is the video (13 minutes):

The press release issued by the Global Warming Policy Forum states:

It is the responsibility of teachers and parents to reassure these worried youngsters that polar bears and walrus are not suffering because of sea ice loss blamed on climate change. Children need to be told the truth: that whatever scary stories some biologists come up with about what might happen in the future, Arctic species have demonstrated that they are much more resilient to changes in sea ice than Attenborough’s films suggest.

The GWPF is sending copies of this video to all head teachers of UK schools together with a letter, telling them that they are responsible for the mental health of their pupils and that they have a responsibility to provide their pupils with accurate information about the state of wildlife in the Arctic.

The letter sent to head teachers will include a list of verifiable facts, with references, listed here.

Below is my timeline, with references, and below the references is a list of previous videos on this topic.

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Activist Norwegian makes more false claims that trophy hunting threatens polar bears

An anti-hunting Norwegian activist-photographer has again made unsupported claims about legal polar bear trophy hunting in Canada and its impact on the survival of the species, promoted by two UK tabloid newspapers (The Sun and The Mirror) over the weekend. The reality is that polar bears are no more being driven to extinction by trophy hunting than they are battling to survive the effects of climate change: they are currently thriving.

According to the Mirror, “Awarding-winning wildlife photographer and conservationist Ole Liodden has warned the iconic Arctic species will die out if trophy hunting is allowed to continue” but no reputable biologist or conservation organization says this, including the IUCN Red List, CITES, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, or Polar Bears International. This should tell any rational individual that photographer Ole Liodden is misrepresenting the truth to support his rabid anti-hunting stance.

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I understand that some people object to hunting (especially trophy hunting) and wish more people felt like they do – but Liodden’s opinion is nothing more than the emotional rant of a conspiracy theorist and should be ignored. Continue reading

2019 Alaska aerial survey found the most polar bears since 2012 – dozens of fat healthy bears

This aerial shot of six fat polar bears lolling around on a sand beach on the coast of the Southern Beaufort Sea, Alaska, was taken by NOAA employees in July 2019. It exemplifies the reality that bears in this subpopulation are currently abundant and healthy, negating the suggestion that numbers have continued to drop since 2006 because bears are starving.

Six fat polar bear wallow in SB sand_NOAA summer 2019

The above picture of polar bear health is not an exception but the rule for all 31 bears recorded onshore last July, as the photos below from other locations testify. Those who would blame this abundance of bears on lack of sea ice in 2019 should note that ice retreated as early and as extensively in 2017 yet only 3 bears were spotted onshore. Results of a recent (2017-2018) population survey, which have not yet been made public, will of course not reflect conditions seen in 2019.

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