Why are polar bears going extinct?

Google says many people ask this question so here is the correct answer: polar bears are not going extinct. If you have been told that, you have misunderstood or have been misinformed. Polar bears are well-distributed across their available habitat and population numbers are high (officially 22,000-31,000 at 2015 but likely closer to 26,000-58,000 at 2018): these are features of a healthy, thriving species. ‘Why are polar bears going extinct?’ contains a false premise – there is no need to ask ‘why’ when the ‘polar bears [are] going extinct’ part is not true.1

Mother with cubs Russia_shutterstock_71694292_web size

It is true that in 2007, it was predicted that polar bear numbers would plummet when summer sea ice declined to 42% of 1979 levels for 8 out of 10 years (anticipated to occur by 2050) and extinct or nearly so by 2100 (Amstrup et al. 2007). However, summer sea ice has been at ‘mid-century-like’ levels since 2007 (with year to year variation, see NOAA ice chart below) yet polar bear numbers have increased since 2005. The anticipated disaster did not occur but many people still believe it did because the media and some researchers still give that impression.

Sea ice extent_2012_Sept low_reduced by more than 50pc_NASA Ice Imagery

The prediction of imminent extinction of the polar bear was an utter failure, as I’ve shown in this scientific paper (Crockford 2017) and my most recent book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.

Examine the evidence and you will see that claims of polar bears going extinct are simply not true. So far, the response of polar bears to recent ice loss suggests that they will continue to thrive with even less summer ice than there has been in recent years as long as ice in winter (December-March) and spring (April-June) remains reasonably abundant, as has been the case to date. The most recent information available is summarized in the upcoming State of the Polar Bear Report 2019, to be released 27 February 2020 but see also the 2018 report (Crockford 2019b).

The graph below was constructed by NASA sea ice expert Walt Meier and published by the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in early October 2019. It shows clearly that summer sea ice (measured as the average for September) has not declined further since 2007 but has had a flat trend.

Sea ice extent 2019 Sept average NSIDC_graph extent and trend showing stall

The graph below is from my book and shows the growth of global polar bear numbers since the 1960s. The final estimate 26,000-58,000 or 39,000 average) is my plausible and scientifically defensible ‘best guess’ based on extrapolation of recent survey results, summarized here and explained in detail in my book.

Population size estimate graph my estimate


One of Google’s top ‘suggestion’ when I search for the term ‘polar bear’ is a list of questions that people supposedly ask the most (‘People also ask’), including ‘Why are polar bears going extinct?’

The ‘answer’ provided is not an actual answer but a statement from WWF, an multi-national organization financially invested in promoting the idea that polar bears are suffering due to declining sea ice: it’s paid Google advertising meant to look like answers and facts:

‘Because of ongoing and potential loss of their sea ice habitat resulting from climate change, polar bears were listed as a threatened species in the US under the Endangered Species Act in May 2008. The survival and the protection of the polar bear habitat are urgent issues for WWF.’

Note the statement misleadingly says ‘sea ice’ when it really means ‘summer sea ice’ – the predictions of potential polar bear population decline were based exclusively on summer ice (Amstrup et al. 2007; Crockford 2017, 2019).

As I said above, ‘Why are polar bears going extinct?’ contains a false premise – there is no need to ask ‘why’, when the ‘polar bears [are] going extinct’ part is not true. This post is for the people who search the internet thinking that polar bears really are going extinct.

Another question Google offers is: ‘How many polar bears are left?’ Answer [my bold]:

‘In fact, the World Wide Fund for Nature (or WWF) estimates that there are only 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears left in the world. Jan 25, 2019’

Only? This global estimate, provided by the IUCN Red List (not the WWF) means there are almost three times more polar bears than the 10,000 or so there were in 1960 (Regehr et al. 2016; Wiig et al. 2015). But the Red List figure includes out-of-date estimates and low-balled guesses for many of the 19 subpopulations and my book (Crockford 2019) explains why this 2015 estimate sanctioned by the IUCN was almost certainly too low.


Amstrup, S.C., Marcot, B.G. & Douglas, D.C. 2007. Forecasting the rangewide status of polar bears at selected times in the 21st century. US Geological Survey. Reston, VA. Pdf here

Crockford, S.J. 2017. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 19 January 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v1 Open access. https://peerj.com/preprints/2737/

Crockford, S.J. 2019. The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Crockford, S.J. 2019b. State of the Polar Bear Report 2018. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 32, London. pdf here.

Regehr, E.V., Laidre, K.L, Akçakaya, H.R., Amstrup, S.C., Atwood, T.C., Lunn, N.J., Obbard, M., Stern, H., Thiemann, G.W., & Wiig, Ø. 2016. Conservation status of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in relation to projected sea-ice declines. Biology Letters 12: 20160556. http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/12/12/20160556

Wiig, Ø., Amstrup, S., Atwood, T., Laidre, K., Lunn, N., Obbard, M., et al. 2015. Ursus maritimus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T22823A14871490. Available from http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22823/0 [accessed Nov. 28, 2015]. See the supplement for population figures here.

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