Activist polar explorer Børge Ousland’s told National Geographic that more polar bear encounters on land are due to reduced sea ice – without any reference to population changes over that time or revealing when or where these observations were made.
“One purpose of the Ice Legacy expedition is to reveal the effects of climate change on the polar regions, so that people will take action to protect the planet from further alteration.”
These activists were on Severnaya Zemlya in the Kara Sea this summer (see map below, red); last summer they were in Novaya Zemlya to the west). Their project aims to traverse 20 of the largest glaciers in the world (from 2014-2023).
Børge Ousland described what he saw in the Arctic regarding polar bears:
Three decades into his career Ousland is seeing more polar bears than ever. Nowadays you see more polar bears on the glacier because of climate change, because there is less sea ice and [the polar bears] use the glaciers to transport themselves from one side of the island to the other.” [my bold; the short promotional video provided repeats this message]
Except, not only have global polar bear numbers increased since the mid-1980s (according to IUCN PBSG accounts, see graph above and discussed here) but Russian researchers recently surveyed this area for polar bears for the first time (although not using methods routinely used by western biologists) and estimated 3,200 bears live in the Kara Sea region.
This number is broadly consistent with numbers previously counted in the Barents Sea subpopulation to the west, and Norwegian researchers counting polar bears in the Barents Sea in August 2015 found the bears to be in excellent condition, with many “as fat as pigs.”
During July and August, Severnaya Zemlya has been surrounding by ice or had ice on at least one side, for all recent years (see NSIDC comparative ice map archive: change “year” or “month” and hit “refresh” upper left). To suggest that sea ice changes alone account for any perceived changes in encounter rates on some Arctic island glaciers is absurd.
Here is what Ousland said about a polar bear encounter (no date given) on Severnaya Zemlya:
“On a previous trip to Russia’s Cape Arkticheskiy [SJC, northern-most point on Severnaya Zemlya], Ousland and his expedition partner were in their tent when “suddenly the zipper broke and a polar bear put his head into the tent. When we saw him and he saw us, I think we were both so scared that he ran away and we just backed off into the back of the tent.”
To avoid another harrowing run-in with a polar bear, Ousland now uses tripwires attached to flares to protect his campsite. Reminiscent of a MacGyver-inspired contraption, Ousland’s homemade system is held together mostly by items you can pick up at a bait and tackle shop—fishing poles, fishing wire, hooks, etc. Ousland encircles his tent with the tripwire so any curious visitor will trip and set off the flares—scaring off the intruder and alerting Ousland to its presence.”