A few days ago I had the pleasure of talking with Anthony Watts from WUWT as part of his new podcast series. Listen to it here.
Below, I’ve copied a post from earlier this year that summarizes some misconceptions about polar bear conservation status and population size. I reiterate here (with links added for convenience) what I said last month:
The polar bear data are contradictory: contrary to predictions, several polar bear subpopulations (at least four of them) are indeed thriving despite much reduced summer sea ice [Chukchi Sea, Barents Sea, Kane Basin, M’Clintock Channel, as well as Foxe Basin and Davis Strait]. I have chosen to emphasis that good news, while Stirling and Derocher choose to emphasize the data that seem to fit their predictions [Western Hudson Bay and Southern Hudson Bay]. This is a classic conflict that happens all the time in science but presents no proof that I’m wrong or that the PragerU video is inherently ‘false’.
Note that Western Hudson Bay bears were last counted in 2016 but have had five good sea ice seasons in a row now, including this year by the look of it, so if ‘lack of sea ice’ is really the cause of the statistically-insignificant decline, then population numbers should be back up. And here is my video about the National Geographic video of the starving polar bear blamed on climate change mentioned by Anthony in the interview:
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
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.
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 (Crockford 2020).
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.
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.
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. 2020. State of the Polar Bear Report 2019. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 39, 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.