Category Archives: Polar bear attacks

Wandering polar bears are the new starving polar bears, falsely blamed on climate change

Back in 2017, we famously had National Geographic falsely blaming a starving polar bear on climate change but since then we have been inundated (relatively speaking) with stories of ‘wandering’ bears sighted far from Arctic coastlines. These wandering bears are oddities to be sure but are not in any way an indicator of melting Arctic sea ice or lost habitat, as The Times (UK) has claimed in this latest example (Polar bear treks 1,500 miles south as Arctic hunting zone melts away).

Similar to three other recent examples, from 2019 – in Alaska in winter, in Chukotka in early spring, and Siberia in late spring – this month’s example cannot rationally be blamed on lack of sea ice. This year’s bear took at least eight weeks to travel from the Lena River Delta area of the Laptev Sea to a small village in Yakusk, Russia where it was captured on 11 May, shown below on the map of the route it took included in the story at The Daily Mail (11 May).

From The Daily Mail, 11 May.
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Polar bear problems onshore in Svalbard before prime feeding season

At the end of March there were two polar bear incidents on the same day in Svalbard, where one bear trashed a holiday cabin. Think a door or a window can keep out a polar bear? Think again!

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Polar bear attack in Svalbard: victim survives, polar bear does not

A man was attacked from behind this morning by a small male polar bear on the east coast of Svalbard, Norway, where there is abundant sea ice. His companion shot the bear and the victim escaped with minor head injuries. Most bears are very hungry at this time of year because the seal pupping season has not yet begun.

Young bears are extremely dangerous and the most likely to attack people (Crockford 2019; Wilder et al. 2017): a three year old male fatally attacked a camper in August 2020 just outside Longyearbyen, Svalbard, an incident unfairly blamed on lack of sea ice (Crockford 2021).

UPDATE 3 March 2021: Results of an autopsy conducted on the polar bear killed yesterday revealed it was a 6 year old male that weighed only 231 kg, which is less than usual for an adult bear later in the season but likely typical for a relatively young bear at the end of winter before seal pups are born. See quote from a Norwegian polar bear specialist below [my bold]:

Jon Aars, an institute researcher who has spent many years studying bears in Svalbard, told Svalbardposten the vast majority of bears ages six to 15 will weigh between 350 and 450 kilograms in April, when the spring hunting season is typically at its peak.

“It may have been aggressive because it was thin,” he said. “It is likely. The thinner they are, the greater the chance that they are dangerous. He is at an age where he is not frequently considered as a problem bear – it is mostly among the younger or the very old who have problems.”

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Not a myth: State of the Polar Bear Report shows 2020 was another good year for polar bears

The ‘State of the Polar Bear Report 2020’ is now available. Forget hand-wringing about what might happen fifty years from now – celebrate the fabulous news that polar bears had yet another good year.

Press release from the Global Warming Policy Forum:

Download the report here.

Cite as:

Crockford, S.J. 2021. The State of the Polar Bear Report 2020. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 48, London.

 

London, 27 February: A prominent Canadian zoologist says that Facebook’s information is gravely out of date and 2020 was another good year for polar bears.

 

In the State of the Polar Bear Report 2020, published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) on International Polar Bear Day, zoologist Dr. Susan Crockford explains that while the climate change narrative insists that polar bear populations are declining due to reduced sea ice, the scientific literature doesn’t support such a conclusion.

Crockford clarifies that the IUCN’s 2015 Red List assessment for polar bears, which Facebook uses as an authority for ‘fact checking’, is seriously out of date. New and compelling evidence shows bears that in regions with profound summer ice loss are doing well.

Included in that evidence are survey results for 8 of the 19 polar bear subpopulations, only two of which showed insignificant declines after very modest ice loss. The rest were either stable or increasing, and some despite major reductions in sea ice. As a result, the global population size is now almost 30,000 – up from about 26,000 in 2015.

Dr. Crockford points out that in 2020, even though summer sea ice declined to the second lowest levels since 1979, there were no reports of widespread starvation of bears, acts of cannibalism, or drowning deaths that might suggest bears were having trouble surviving the ice-free season.

As Crockford’s report reveals, plankton growth – the critical health measure of marine life in the Arctic – reached record highs in August 2020. More plankton (‘primary productivity’) due to less summer ice means more fodder for the entire food chain, including polar bears. This explains why bears are thriving in areas such as the Barents Sea, which have seen reduced levels of sea ice.

Dr. Crockford notes that, ironically, polar bears in Western Hudson Bay experienced excellent ice conditions for the fourth year in a row in 2020. Bears were fat and healthy when they arrived on shore for the summer. Some spent as little as three months on shore – about one month less time than most bears did in the 1980s and two months less than bears did in the 1990s and 2000s.

Dr. Crockford explains that polar bears are more flexible in their habitat requirements than experts assumed and less summer ice has so far been beneficial rather than detrimental.

“Polar bears continue to be described as ‘canaries in the coal mine’ for the effects of human-caused climate change, but the evidence shows they are far from being a highly-sensitive indicator species. It’s not a myth: 2020 appears to have been another good year for polar bears.”

 

Key Findings

  • Results of three new polar bear population surveys were published in 2020 and all were found to be either stable or increasing.
  • Southern Beaufort polar bear numbers were found to have been stable since 2010, not reduced as assumed and the official estimate remains about 907.
  • M’Clintock Channel polar bear numbers more than doubled from 284 in 2000 to 716 in 2016, due to reduced hunting and improved habitat quality (less multiyear ice).
  • Gulf of Boothia numbers were found to be stable, with an estimate of 1525 bears in 2017; body condition increased between study periods and thus showed ‘good potential for growth’.
  • At present, the official IUCN Red List global population estimate, completed in 2015, is 22,000-31,000 (average about 26,000) but surveys conducted since then, including those made public in 2020, would raise that average to almost 30,000. There has been no sustained statistically significant decline in any subpopulation.
  • Reports on surveys in Viscount Melville (completed 2016) and Davis Strait (completed 2018) have not yet been published; completion of an East Greenland survey is expected in 2022.
  • In 2020, Russian authorities announced the first-ever aerial surveys of all four polar bear subpopulations (Chukchi, Laptev, Kara, and Barents Seas), to be undertaken between 2021 and 2023.
  • Contrary to expectations, a new study has shown that polar bear females in the Svalbard area of the Barents Sea were in better condition (i.e. fatter) in 2015 than they had been in the 1990s and early 2000s, despite contending with the greatest decline in sea ice habitat of all Arctic regions.
  • Primary productivity in the Arctic has increased since 2002 because of longer ice-free periods (especially in the Laptev, East Siberian, Kara, and Chukchi Seas but also in the Barents Sea and Hudson Bay), but hit records highs in 2020; more fodder for the entire Arctic food chain explains why polar bears, ringed and bearded seals, and walrus are thriving despite profound sea ice loss.
  • In 2020, contrary to expectations, freeze-up of sea ice on Western Hudson Bay came as early in the autumn as it did in the 1980s (for the fourth year in a row) and sea-ice breakup in spring was also like the 1980s; polar bears onshore were in excellent condition. These conditions came despite summer sea-ice extent across the entire Arctic being the second lowest since 1979. Data collected since 2004 on weights of female polar bears in Western Hudson Bay have still not been published; instead, polar bear specialists have transformed standard body condition data collected 1985–2018 into a new metric for population health they call ‘energetics’, which cannot be compared with previous studies. Meanwhile, they continue to cite decades-old raw data from previous studies to support statements that lack of sea ice is causing declines in body condition of adult females, cub survival, and population size.
  • Contrary to expectations, in Western Hudson Bay, many polar bears remained on the deteriorating sea ice much longer than usual in summer, and stayed ashore longer in fall after official freeze-up thresholds had been reached, calling into question the assumed relationship between sea-ice coverage and polar bear behaviour and health. Some bears that left the ice in late August and then returned before late November would have spent only three months onshore – about one month less time than typical in the 1980s, and two months less than in the 1990s and 2000s.
  • There were few problem polar bear reports in 2020, except for one fatal polar bear attack in August, in a campground near Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Ryrkaypiy, Chukotka, which in 2019 was besieged by more than 50 bears that had congregated to feed on walrus carcasses nearby, avoided a similar problem in 2020 by posting guards around the town. The town of Churchill saw the lowest number of problems bears in years.
  • In 2020, virtually all polar bear research was halted across the Arctic for the entire year due to restrictions on travel and efforts to isolate vulnerable northern communities from Covid-19.

Polar bears can come ashore any time of year and cause trouble: a timely reminder

If you thought polar bears were only a danger to people in summer when sea ice is low, think again. Bears do occasionally come ashore early to mid-winter looking for food because hunting is difficult and they are approaching their leanest time of year. They simply walk from the ice onto land – often close to communities – because many things associated with modern human living are food attractants for polar bears.

This tracking map of Western Hudson Bay bears (females with collars) 11 January 2021 (courtesy Andrew Derocher) shows a bear just offshore near the community of Whale Cove on the northwest coast – close enough to come ashore if she decides that could be in her best interests:

Derocher had this to say about the location of this bear (12 Jan 2021):

It may be ‘odd’ for a bear to be so close to shore in winter but since we know that polar bears do come ashore in winter, it isn’t rare but ‘uncommon’. Most of the trouble with bears ashore seems to come in March/April on the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland when sea ice is more extensive and where 2017 was an exceptional year.

Trouble with bears in January/February:

2019 Labrador, Bears reported onshore in Labrador (January 2)

2019 Labrador, Bears onshore in Labrador causing problems (February 1)

2019 Alaska, Polar bear attack hundreds of miles from shore (January 15)

2016 Labrador, Bears onshore in Labrador (7 February)

2016 Summary of prior incidents and attractants (19 March)

Below: Sea ice conditions at 13 January 2021, North America compared to 2020 and 2019, showing how extensive the ice was in 2019 (and accounting for bears ashore at Labrador and Newfoundland in early January):

Below is a chart from 1985, when sea ice off Labrador and Newfoundland was as thick in mid-January as it was in 2019, yet as far as I know, there were no reports of bears ashore in Labrador or northern Newfoundland. This difference is almost certainly because the population size of Davis Strait bears had not yet recovered from previous centuries of overhunting and harp seals numbers were still quite low compared to what they rose to over the next three decades: currently, both Davis Strait polar bears and harps seals are abundant (DFO 2012, 2014, 2020; Peacock et al. 2013) and numbers could still be climbing, although the results of a recent bear survey in the region has not yet been published.

References

Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) 2012. Current status of northwest Atlantic harp seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus). Science Advisory Report 2011/070.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada DFO. 2014. Status of Northwest Atlantic harp seals, Pagophilus groenlandicus. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Sci. Advis. Rep. 2014/011.

DFO. 2020. 2019 Status of Northwest Atlantic Harp Seals, Pagophilus groenlandicus. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Sci. Advis. Rep. 2020/020. http://www.isdm-gdsi.gc.ca/csas-sccs/applications/Publications/result-eng.asp?params=0&series=7&year=2020 PDF here.

Peacock, E., Taylor, M.K., Laake, J., and Stirling, I. 2013. Population ecology of polar bears in Davis Strait, Canada and Greenland. Journal of Wildlife Management 77:463–476. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jwmg.489/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

Polar bears again attracted to Russian town by dead walrus Attenborough blames on no sea ice

In the news again: Cape Schmidt (on the Chukchi Sea) made famous by Sir David Attenborough’s false claim that walrus fell to their deaths because of lack of sea ice due to climate change when a clever polar bear hunting strategy was actually to blame.

Ryrkaypiy overrun by polar bears WWF photo

Ryrkaypiy overrun by polar bears Dec 2019 WWF photo

Last year in December (above), some bears were feeding at Ryrkaypiy’s garbage dump and wandering around town after being displaced from feeding on walrus carcasses by bigger, stronger bears on the nearby point.

This year, the town has managed to keep the bears out of town, so while the residents are having no real problems, more than 30 bears have been spotted near town, almost certainly feeding on natural-death carcasses of walrus along the shore (see photo below from 2017 where Ryrkaypiy can be seen in the background).

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UPHEAVAL – my new ice tsunami novel – is now available!

My new short novel is out! UPHEAVAL is a future disaster thriller about an ice tsunami that devastates Nova Scotia on the Canadian east coast in 2026. And yes, there are polar bears. It’s a follow-up to my 2015 novel EATEN but with a completely different focus!

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New novel UPHEAVAL will be out in time for Christmas orders

My new short novel is set to be published within the next week, in time for Christmas orders. UPHEAVAL is a future disaster thriller about an ice tsunami that devastates Nova Scotia on the Canadian east coast in 2026. And yes, there are polar bears. It’s a follow-up to my 2016 novel EATEN but with a slightly different focus! It will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

My new novel set in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has a surprising twist

My fictional story about sea ice, polar bears and upheaval in 2026 – a followup to EATEN – is coming soon. Prepare for the unexpected.

CTV news_Cathy Erlene sealer heavy ice off North Sydney_Saturday March 28 2009

A video to help set the mood…

Ten fat polar bears filmed raiding a stalled Russian garbage truck

From the Siberian Times today (20 October) is a story with few facts but a fabulous video of six fat adults and four fat cubs as they set siege to a stalled open garbage truck in the Russian Arctic. It may have been filmed on Novaya Zemlya but that has not been confirmed.

Of course, Novaya Zemlya has had previous problems with bears habituated to garbage, most famously an extended incident in 2019 that was perversely blamed on climate change.

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