Images from 2017 and 2018 show polar bears thriving in a warming world

Candid images of fat, healthy bears taken over the last two years by unbiased photographers across the Arctic are representative of the state of polar bears in a world that’s warmer than it was in 1980.

chukchi-sea-polar-bear-arctic_early-august-2018_a-khan-nsidc.jpg

Chukchi Sea polar bear on the sea ice, early August 2018. A Khan, NSIDC. Chukchi Sea bears are thriving, according to a new survey of the population.

It may seem counter-intuitive but it’s true: polar bears are thriving with less summer sea ice and there are more bears now than there were in 2005 (not a statistically significant amount more, but more nevertheless).

Gulf Polar-bear-quebecPierre-Alexandre Defoy 22 March 2017

Polar bear on the north shore of Gulf of St. Lawrence, 22 March 2017. Pierre Alexandre Defoy photo. More info and photos here.

newfoundland polar bear 10 june 2018_iceberg festival committee_thresa burden photo

Newfoundland bear on Northern Peninsula, 10 June 2018. Teresa Burden photo.

great-brehat-dillon-patey_march 12 2018_vocm report

Newfoundland polar bear at Great Brehat, 12 March 2018. Dillon Patey photo.

polar bear aug 2017 near area where june 19 2018 bear was spotted gordy kidlapik

Near Arviat, north of Churchill on Western Hudson Bay, August 2018. Gordy Kidlapik photo.

wrangel island bears on whale_29 sept 2017 siberian times

Fat Chukchi Sea polar bears drawn to a whale carcass on Wrangel Island, September 2017. More photos here.

In contrast, activist-photographer Paul Nicklen had to scout the Canadian Arctic for weeks to find a thin bear to tell a dramatice story about global warming because the landscape was filled with bears in good condition. His attempt at propaganda with his emaciated bear video backfiredbig time.

Yet a small portion of the general public still believe that a few images of starving polar bears represent the entire population. The image from 2015 of a wet, emaciated polar bear captured by fellow eco-photographer Kerstin Langenberger was similar to Nicklen’s: it was an injured bear nearing a natural death. Langenberger’s image was no more “what climate change looks like” than Nicklen’s dying bear.

As I pointed out in my State of the Polar Bear Report (Crockford 2018), starvation is the leading natural cause of death for polar bears. There will always be starving polar bears, no matter the state of the sea ice.

Prospects for polar bears are no worse this year than they were 10 years ago. Norwegian polar bear specialist Jon Aars recently wrote an update on the status of Svalbard bears and stated:

“…despite the loss of good denning areas and a shrinking habitat for hunting, Svalbard’s bears seem to be doing fine.…The sea ice season is now several months shorter, and the ice edge typically lies several degrees further north than what was normal 20-40 years ago….Polar bears can survive long periods without food, provided they have accumulated a good fat reserve during the few months in spring and summer when sea ice is present, and seals are abundant.” [Jon Aars, Norwegian Polar Institute, 2018]

References

Aars, J. 2018. Population changes in polar bears: protected, but quickly losing habitat. Fram Forum Newsletter 2018. Fram Centre, Tromso. Download pdf here (32 mb).

Crockford, S.J. 2018. State of the Polar Bear Report 2017. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report #29. London. pdf here.

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