In a move that echoes the collaboration of activist organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF) with Netflix that brought us Sir David Attenborough’s walrus deception in ‘Our Planet’ that I chronicled in my latest book, ‘Fallen Icon’, streaming service DisneyNature has joined with activist organization Polar Bears International (PBI) to create a polar bear ‘documentary’ (called ‘Polar Bear’) that we can tell is propaganda because they’ve chosen to release the “cute and worrying” film on Earth Day (Friday 22 April 2022). In fact, the two films have a producer in common: Alastair Fothergill.
In the case of ‘Our Planet’, WWF bankrolled the film series for Netflix to ensure the content they desired; in ‘Polar Bear’, the tables are turned: DisneyNature is paying PBI for their assistance getting the polar bear film shots and providing their biased content, via money they are calling a research grant. I think you know by now what to expect. However, here are the facts about polar bear conditions in Svalbard, where the film was shot, and some good news from Western Hudson Bay this year, courtesy of Mike Reimer and his team at Churchill Wild. In short, there is still no climate emergency for polar bears: the hype is based on old models that failed spectacularly and new ones which depend on old data and totally improbable climate scenarios (Crockford 2017, 2019; Hausfather and Peters 2020; Molnar et al. 2020).
Svalbard polar bear conditions
In contrast to messages constructed by PBI to promote their ‘polar bears are all gonna die’ rhetoric, spring research in Svalbard, Norway in 2021 showed bears there were thriving: the body condition of male polar bears was stable and litter size of family groups was the same as it had been in 1994 – despite the Barents Sea having lost at least six times as much summer sea ice as Western Hudson Bay since 1979 (Crockford 2022; Regehr et al. 2016). There has been no reduction in population size since 2004 despite this profound loss of sea ice (Aars 2018; Aars et al. 2017) and the premise of the DisneyNature film that polar bear females are ‘suffering’ is contracted by scientific data showing female body condition “increased significantly between 2004 and 2017″ (Lippold et al. 2019: abstract).
“Unexpectedly, body condition of female polar bears from the Barents Sea has increased after 2005, although sea ice has retreated by ∼50% since the late 1990s in the area, and the length of the ice-free season has increased by over 20 weeks between 1979 and 2013. These changes are also accompanied by winter sea ice retreat that is especially pronounced in the Barents Sea compared to other Arctic areas. Despite the declining sea ice in the Barents Sea, polar bears are likely not lacking food as long as sea ice is present during their peak feeding period. Polar bears feed extensively from April to June when ringed seals have pups and are particularly vulnerable to predation, whereas the predation rate during the rest of the year is likely low.” [Lippold et al. 2019: 988]
Martyn Obbard and colleagues (2016: 29) said essentially the same thing [that “polar bears are likely not lacking food as long as sea ice is present during their peak feeding period“) to explain why the body condition of Southern Hudson Bay polar bears had not declined in lock-step with sea ice declines in recent years. And I have said something very similar – many times – to explain why summer sea ice decline has not had a devastating effect on polar bears (Crockford 2017, 2019, 2022), a conclusion I arrived at from my review of the polar bear literature (including Obbard’s paper).
Good News from Western Hudson Bay
Below is a report on conditions in Western Hudson Bay in 2021 and 2022 from Mike Reimer at Churchill Wild (with his permission, sent 28 March 2022; my bold). The map above shows the location of the lodges mentioned in his note, with the position of Owl River (in blue) added by me (original here is zoomable).
First off, this marks my 40th year of living and working on the Hudson Bay coast where I have spent tens upon thousands of hours in the wilds in close proximity to the great white bears. I would call myself an “observational scientist” untrained and unpaid to make professional peer reviewed edicts on polar bears but feel I have amassed a considerable amount of first hand “data” over the years.
I only share what I’ve seen each summer at our camps on the coast and do not own nor can afford an expensive helicopter and a dart gun to really “get in there” and closely handle the bears to perhaps gain some scientific type knowledge of their ongoing condition.
So here are the facts as we see them in our polar bear world, again strictly observational opinions gleaned from 40 years on the Hudson Bay and surrounding Canadian Arctic regions, I’m not a scientist, I have merely lived with polar bears most of my life!
We operate our expeditions and set our schedules entirely based on the arrival and departure of the polar bears to & from land as they go through their normal cycles. And for 40 years it has never changed, we can pretty much set our clocks/dates around their quasi migratory habits.
Sometime in the first week of July we will see our first polar bear off the ice at our Seal River Lodge; I facetiously like to tell people it’s always July 10th on the second tide give or take a week. Down at Nanuk our other lodge located 300 klms SE of Churchill we usually don’t see much of them till a few weeks later when the last of the sea ice breaks up which has lately been into August.
As for bears back on the ice dates I would have to pick November 10th, and again give or take a week. The bears, as you know, spend the summer loafing about waiting for ice and a chance at seals, whales or whatever else might wash up on the beaches (at Seal River location they’ve become adept at hunting belugas from shore).
Strangely enough this year they arrived off the ice in late July and then seemed to disappear leaving us with almost no bear sightings especially at our Nanuk Lodge location. An aerial recon quickly located large groups (as many as 20 in a “gang”) of bears lounging on the beaches in a high state of lethargic non activity because they were simply TOO FAT to move!! That’s correct, too fat to bother wandering about looking for snacks (berries, grasses, birds, carrion) as the summer wore on. These bears went beyond healthy to being downright obese. In all our seasons here we’ve not seen bears in October/November in such extreme cases of healthful chubbiness. The bears were very happy our guests not so much, lol.
Further to this the moms and cubs observed this spring are in excellent shape even producing a set of triplets which we have not had for a while [apparently Wat’chee Lodge also observed a set of triplets near the Owl River…].
I realize the above optimistic sharing’s do not fit the standard party line of doom & gloom for our great white bears so I emphasis again these are only real life observations not scientifically verified facts. But we fully expect our great, great grandchildren to be offering polar bear tours for many decades to come.
To summarize: no marked change in breakup and freeze-up dates over the last 40 years, dozens of bears too fat to move in the fall of 2021 and two triplet litters of cubs in March 2022.
Mike’s mention of news of another triplet litter near Owl River is corroborated by a report on 19 March by photographer Daniel Cox, who donates images and video footage to PBI to assist in their promotion of the polar bear’s predicted doomsday future. See the image copied below from this 1 April 2022 tweet. That’s two triplet litters in 2022 in Western Hudson Bay seen by humans. In that sparsely populated wilderness, how many more triplet litters were there that were not seen?
I would say that this video from 2019 is still relevant:
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).
Aars, J., Marques,T.A, Lone, K., Anderson, M., Wiig, Ø., Fløystad, I.M.B., Hagen, S.B. and Buckland, S.T. 2017. The number and distribution of polar bears in the western Barents Sea. Polar Research 36:1. 1374125. doi:10.1080/17518369.2017.1374125
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. 2022. The State of the Polar Bear 2021. Global Warming Policy Foundation Note 29, London. pdf here.
Hausfather, Z. and Peters, G.P. 2020. Emissions – the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading [“Stop using the worst-case scenario for climate warming as the most likely outcome — more-realistic baselines make for better policy”]. Nature 577: 618-620.
Lippold, A., Bourgeon, S., Aars, J., Andersen, M., Polder, A., Lyche, J.L., Bytingsvik, J., Jenssen, B.M., Derocher, A.E., Welker, J.M. and Routti, H. 2019. Temporal trends of persistent organic pollutants in Barents Sea polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in relation to changes in feeding habits and body condition. Environmental Science and Technology 53(2):984-995.
Molnár, P.K., Bitz, C.M., Holland, M.M., Kay, J.E., Penk, S.R. and Amstrup, S.C. 2020. Fasting season length sets temporal limits for global polar bear persistence. Nature Climate Change 10:732-738. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0818-9
Obbard, M.E., Cattet, M.R.I., Howe, E.J., Middel, K.R., Newton, E.J., Kolenosky, G.B., Abraham, K.F. and Greenwood, C.J. 2016. Trends in body condition in polar bears (Ursus maritimus) from the Southern Hudson Bay subpopulation in relation to changes in sea ice. Arctic Science 2:15-32 Doi 10.1139/AS-2015-0027 http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/AS-2015-0027#.VvFtlXpUq50
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