Category Archives: Life History

Skinny polar bear far inland in Siberia not due to sea ice loss but a rare normal event

A thin polar bear has wandered more than 1000km south of the Kara Sea into the Siberian town of Norilsk, which has happened at least once before in the 1970s. It is reminiscent of a similar incident this past winter in Alaska and there is no reason to blame this on lack of sea ice.

Norilsk starving bear 17 June 2019 Siberian Times photo

From the Siberian Times earlier today (17 June 2019) comes the report that a bear that did not get enough to eat this spring (due to any number of reasons, including competition from larger, stronger bears) and went looking for easier food sources. No mention is made that this incident should be blamed on global warming.

Update 18 June 2019: Lack of any evidence that this incident was due to lack of sea ice didn’t stop Reuters from implying this was indeed the case, a theme picked up by the UK Telegraph, the BBC, and The Guardian.

Norilsk starving bear 17 June 2019 Siberian Times map

Quotes and video from the story below. Continue reading

Polar bear habitat update at mid-June: more than enough for survival

Here we are at the middle of June, when most polar bears are pretty much done with hunting seals for the season. And despite hand-wringing from some quarters, sea ice extent is down only marginally from average at this time of year and certainly not enough to impact polar bear survival.

Polar_bear Bering Sea 2007 USFWS lg

Given the large expanse of open water in the Southern Beaufort so early in the season, one resident pessimist insists those polar bears are “challenged” by the lack of ice. If he is right, there should be reports of dozens upon dozens of skinny and dying bears along the coast of Alaska this summer. If not, he will pretend he never suggested any such thing.

So far, despite the early loss of ice in some regions, there have been no reports of polar bears ashore unusually early. Hudson Bay still has lots of thick first year ice, so despite the overall reduced Arctic ice coverage, none of the three Hudson Bay polar bear populations are facing the earlier-than-usual sea ice breakup this year as we keep being promised will show up. In fact, there hasn’t been a significantly early breakup in Western Hudson Bay since 2010 (see previous posts here and here).

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Polar bear habitat update: open water primarily due to winds pushing pack ice

Here is a look at what polar bear habitat looks like this year at the end of May compared to previous years. It helps put any predictions of impending doom into perspective.

Polar_bear Bering Sea 2007 USFWS lg

This is the time year when declining sea ice gets some people all worked up. However, declining ice is normal at this time of year and there is always variation in where the most open water appears first. At this time of year, there isn’t much ice ‘melt’ going on. Rather, what we are seeing is the opening up of shore leads and polynyas by winds.

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Polar bear habitat update for early spring shows no influence of a CO2 control knob

The primary feeding period for polar bears is rapidly drawing to a close in much of the Arctic, although it may continue for another few weeks in the farthest north. Mating is pretty much over as well, which means the polar bears’ need for abundant sea ice is declining even more rapidly than the ice does itself at this time of year.

Walking bear shutterstock_329214941_web size

Despite the fact that CO2 levels have now reached 415 ppm (see tweet below), sea ice is still pretty much as it was in 2006 when CO2 was about 385 ppm. In other words, the state of sea ice at this time of year – just over 12 million kilometres squared in 2006 and in 2019 – shows no correlation with rising CO2 levels. There is also not a hint of imminent catastrophe for polar bears anywhere within their range, despite the hand-wringing messages from conservation fear-mongers and their polar bear specialist supporters.

As I’ve argued previously (with references), sea ice is a seasonal requirement for polar bears, not a year-round necessity (Crockford 2019).

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More starving polar bear nonsense from National Geographic & a better video to watch

This time National Geographic’s ‘Hostile Planet’ series laughably claims a fat polar bear that’s caught a beluga calf off the coast of Western Hudson Bay has been saved from starvation! The message: here is a prime example of climate change pushing a species to its limit. This is nonsense, of course: polar bears hunting beluga whales from rocks has nothing to do with climate change or desperately hungry bears. More importantly, there is a much better video of the action that is both more informative and truthful.
Polar bear hunting beluga_Nat Geo 11 April Hostile Planet clip starving

See both below and decide which you’d prefer your kids or grandkids to watch.

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State of the Polar Bear Report 2018: Polar bears continue to thrive

Press Release 27 February 2019, International Polar Bear Day

New Report: Polar Bears Continue To Thrive

State PB 2018 cover 27 Feb 2019

Inuit paying the price of rising bear populations

The State of the Polar Bear Report for 2018, published today by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, confirms that polar bears are continuing to thrive, despite recent reductions in sea ice levels. This finding contradicts claims by environmentalists and some scientists that falls in sea ice would wipe out bear populations.

The report’s author, zoologist Dr Susan Crockford, says that there is now very little evidence to support the idea that the polar bear is threatened with extinction by climate change.

We now know that polar bears are very resourceful creatures. They have made it through warm periods in the past and they seem to be taking the current warming in their stride too”.

In fact, it is the human residents of the Arctic who seem to have most to worry about. With more and more bears on the landscape at all times of year, there have been worrying reports of people being threatened, mauled and even killed, particularly from Nunavut, in the Canadian north.

As Dr Crockford explains,

The people of Nunavut are not seeing starving, desperate bears – quite the opposite. Yet polar bear specialists are saying these bears are causing problems because they don’t have enough sea ice to feed properly. The facts on the ground make their claims look silly, including the abundance of fat bears. Residents are pushing their government for a management policy that makes protection of human life the priority.

UPDATE: Read my opinion piece in Canada’s Financial Post here.

Key findings [Read the whole thing here]

· Data published since 2017 show that global polar bear numbers have continued to increase slightly since 2005, despite the fact that summer sea ice in 2018 was again at a low level not expected until mid-century: the predicted 67% decline in polar bear numbers did not occur.

· Despite marked declines in summer sea ice, Chukchi Sea polar bears continue to thrive: reports from the first population-size estimate for the region, performed in 2016, show bears in the region are abundant (almost 3000 individuals), healthy and reproducing well.

· National Geographic received such a profound backlash from its widely viewed ‘this is what climate change looks like ’ starving polar bear video, released in late 2017, that in 2018 it made a formal public apology for spreading misinformation.

· In Canada, where perhaps two-thirds of the world’s polar bears live, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (COSEWIC) decided in 2018 to continue to list the polar bear as a species of ‘Special concern’ rather than upgrade to ‘Threatened.’

· Polar bear attacks made headlines in 2018: two fatal attacks in Nunavut, Canada and a narrowly averted death-by-mauling in northern Svalbard caught the world by surprise.

Citation: Crockford, S.J. 2019. State of the Polar Bear Report 2018. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 32, London.


Ringed and bearded seals, still listed as ‘threatened’, are still doing really well

This isn’t news but it’s good to hear it again, this time from the mouth of one of the biologists who collects the data: against all odds, the primary prey species of polar bears are doing spectacularly well.

Ringed seal Barrow AK_Brendan Kelly

According to leading seal biologist Lori Quakenbush of Alaska Department of Fish and Game, ringed and bearded seals in the Chukchi Sea are doing great (ADN, 11 February 2019, “Seals seem to be adapting to shrinking sea ice off Alaska”):

“We’re seeing fat seals,” said Lori Quakenbush, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Arctic Marine Mammal Program. “They are reproducing earlier than they have in the past, which says they are getting enough nutrition at this point to grow quickly and become reproductive at an earlier age.”

Quakenbush looking for ringed and bearded seals in Chukchi sea_11 Feb 2019 ADNRinged and bearded seals across the Arctic, including the Chukchi and Bering Seas, were listed as threatened in 2012 by the US, hot on the heels of polar bears given the same status in 2008 (USFWS 2008, 2012a, 2012b). But American biologists didn’t even pretend that the seals were currently suffering, they simply assumed they would sometime in the future (Cameron et al. 2010; Kelly et al. 2010).

Now, ten years worth of low sea ice of the kind expected to drive polar bears to the brink of extinction later, and ringed and bearded seals are doing better than they did in the late 1970s and early 1980s when there was more summer ice (Adam et al. 2019; Crawford and Quakenbush 2013; Crawford et al. 2015). Quakenbush now has data that extends the period of recent research to 2016, from 2013 previously.

It’s hard to imagine stronger evidence in support of retracting the ESA ‘threatened’ species status designation for ringed and bearded seals: clearly, ringed and bearded seals did not respond as expected when summer sea ice declined dramatically in 2007.

However, all that seems to have happened is that Quakenbush is willing to admit to a journalist that biologists can’t tell the future:

“…two predictions that we made about what could be bad for walruses, just within a couple of years turned around and were sort of the opposite.”

Quakenbush has been watching marine mammals throughout her long career, and she has given up predicting their future. She says that biologists know what the animals do with ice because they have studied that, but we don’t know what they do without it.

Read the whole thing here.

Unfortunately, predicting the future was precisely what US biologists insisted they could do accurately in 2012, even though no other conservation organization in the world concurred with their assessemnt, including the IUCN. The IUCN Red List classified both ringed and bearded seals as species of ‘Least Concern’ in 2008 and in 2016 (Kovacs 2016; Lowry 2016; Kovaks and Lowry 2008; Kovacs et al. 2008).1

Bearded Seal_25 Oct 2016_9th Circ. Backs Climate Predictions_The Guardian headline

Footnote 1. The suggestion made in this article that Sea of Okhotsk ringed seals have only recently begun to give birth on the sea ice without making snow caves or ‘lairs’ is not true. Sea of Okhotsk ringed seals have been known to give birth in the pack ice (not on fast ice) without snow dens since at least the 1960s (Fedoseev 1975:158; Kelly et al. 2010a:10) and also in the ice of western Svalbard (Smith et al. 1991:129).


Adam, R., Bryan, A., Quakenbush, L., Crawford, J., and Biderman, L.2019. Bearded seal productivity in Alaska using harvest-based monitoring, 1975-2016. Poster presentation, Alaska Marine Science Symposium, 28 January-1 February.

Abstract: Declines in arctic sea ice extent, thickness, and duration are projected to negatively impact bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus) by reducing their time to rest, pup, nurse, and molt on sea ice. Existing population estimates for bearded seals in Alaska cannot be used to detect trends; however, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game works with Alaska Native hunters to collect data from the subsistence harvest that are used to determine several population health indices, such as: pregnancy rate, age of maturity, and the proportion of pups in the sampled harvest. These indices were previously used to determine if declines in sea ice have affected bearded seals between 1975–1984 and 2003–2014.

During these time periods pregnancy rates varied minimally (92–99%); however, the average age of maturity decreased from 4.2 years in 1975–1984 to 2.9 years in 2003–2014. Additionally, pups were harvested in lower proportions during 1975–1984 than during 2003–2014 (26% and 48%, respectively), indicating that pups are still being produced, weaned, and are surviving to be harvested. Through 2014, we have not detected the decreases in population indices that have been predicted to occur with climate change. However, due to continued declines in sea ice, further monitoring is important; therefore, here we update our 1975–2014 results to include samples from 2015 and 2016.

Cameron, M. F., Bengtson, J. L., Boveng, J. K., Jansen, J. K., Kelly, B. P., Dahle, S. P., Logerwell, E. A., Overland, J. E., Sabine, C. L., Waring, G. T. and Wilder, J. M. 2010. Status review of the bearded (Erignatha barbatus). NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-AFSC-211.

Crawford, J. and Quakenbush, L. 2013. Ringed seals and climate change: early predictions versus recent observations in Alaska. Oral presentation by Justin Crawfort, 28th Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium, March 26-29. Anchorage, AK. Abstract below, find pdf here:

Crawford and Quakenbush_Wakefield Abstract_2013 Ringed Seal_predictions not met
Crawford, J.A., Quakenbush, L.T. and Citta, J.J. 2015. A comparison of ringed and bearded seal diet, condition and productivity between historical (1975–1984) and recent (2003–2012) periods in the Alaskan Bering and Chukchi seas. Progress in Oceanography 136:133-150.

Fedoseev, G. A. 1975. Ecotypes of the ringed seal (Pusa hispida Schreber, 1777) and their reproductive capabilities. In Biology of the Seal, K. Ronald and A.W. Mansfield (eds.), pp. 156-160. Rapports et Proces-verbaux des Reunions, Conseil International Pour L’Exploration de la Mer 169.

Kelly, B. P., Bengtson, J. L., Boveng, P. L., Cameron, M. F., Dahle, S. P., Jansen, J. K., Logerwell, E. A., Overland, J. E., Sabine, C. L., Waring, G. T. and Wilder, J. M. 2010. Status review of the ringed seal (Phoca hispida). NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-AFSC-212.

Kovacs, K.M. 2016. Erignathus barbatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T8010A45225428.

Kovacs, K. and Lowry, L. (IUCN SSC Pinniped Specialist Group) 2008. Erignathus barbatus. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. . Downloaded on 29 December 2012.

Kovacs, K., Lowry, L. and Härkönen, T. (IUCN SSC Pinniped Specialist Group) 2008. Pusa hispida. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. . Downloaded on 29 December 2012.

Lowry, L. 2016. Pusa hispida. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T41672A45231341.

Smith, T. G., Hammill, M. O. and Taugbøl, G. 1991. A review of the development, behavioural and physiological adaptations of the ringed seal, Phoca hispida, to life in the arctic winter. Arctic 44:124-131.

US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). 2008. Determination of threatened status for the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) throughout its range. Federal Register 73: 28212-28303.

US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). 2012a. Threatened status for the Arctic, Okhotsk and Baltic subspecies of the ringed seal. Federal Register 77: 76706–76738.

US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). 2012b. Threatened status for the Beringia and Okhotsk distinct population segments of the Erignathus barbatus nauticus subspecies of the bearded seal. Federal Register 77: 76740–76768.