Category Archives: Population

A ‘mass exodus’ of polar bears from Alaska to Russia has taken place, local residents claim

An article in a UK newspaper yesterday contains a claim made by local residents that polar bears which used to hang around Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow) in western Alaska, are ‘moving to Russia’ (i.e. the Chukchi Sea) in a ‘mass exodus’. It’s certainly possible but if so, it should come as a surprise to no one and is good news for polar bears.

If the allegation is upheld by scientific evidence, polar bears will not have been pushed out of Alaska by lack of summer sea ice (i.e. ‘forced to migrate’) but rather pulled into the Chukchi Sea by abundant food resources that did not exist when summer ice cover was more extensive. It’s a big difference and it speaks to the benefits of less summer sea ice that no one wants to discuss.

Moreover, moving temporarily to where conditions suit them best is what polar bears do all the time: it’s not a new phenomenon, it’s a prominent feature of their biology (Crockford 2019).

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Conditions were not golden for polar bears in the 1980s despite what activist expert claims

Does the following statement stand up to scrutiny – i.e. a fact check – of the scientific literature on polar bear ecology?

In the 1980s, “the males were huge, females were reproducing regularly and cubs were surviving well,” Amstrup said. “The population looked good.”

[Steven Amstrup, Anchorage Daily News (Borenstein and colleagues), 5 November 2021: ‘How warming affects Arctic sea ice and polar bears’]
Steven Amstrup

In short, it does not.

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‘Already too late’ to save Churchill polar bears claim a false NY Times climate change cliché for COP26

Not only is it prime polar bear viewing week in Churchill, Manitoba but it’s the week of the 26th international elite COP climate change gab-fest: every media outlet on the planet is eager to promote climate catastrophe talking points.

Hence totally expected that the New York Times would print someone’s unsupported claim that the polar bears of Churchill (part of the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation) are on the verge of extirpation due to lack of sea ice and other similar nonsense. Also not surprising to find that Canadian government biologist Nick Lunn used the occasion to again offer unpublished and misleading data to a reporter. However, this time it’s good news meant to sound like an emergency: if correct, the data he shared indicate polar bears are heavier now than they were in the 1990s and early 2000s.

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Global population size estimates for polar bears clash with extinction predictions

How many polar bears are there in the world? This was the primary question the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had for the newly-formed Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) back in 1968. Assessing the species global population size was part of the group’s mandate ahead of the 1973 international treaty to protect polar bears from wanton overhunting. For decades, this was an important objective for the scientists that made up the group.

However, about 15 years ago that goal disappeared. I contend it was abandoned because it had become incompatible with the PBSG claim that polar bears are ‘Vulnerable’ to extinction due to human-caused global warming. The group now insists that global population estimates cannot be used to determine if numbers have gone up or down: a Catch-22 that prevents public and scientific scrutiny. This is why they push back so hard when anyone suggests that global polar bear numbers have increased.

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Fact checkers fail to refute polar bear number increases despite extensive ‘expert’ rhetoric

There’s seems to be something about polar bears that really sets off the climate change fact-checkers. Mention that the situation for the bears is not quite as dire as we were told they would be 15 years ago and they can’t wait to sink their teeth in.

In early September this year, an Australian a woman I’ve never heard of gave a lecture to students at her former girl’s school and in the process made some critical remarks about Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Gina Rinehart said, among other things:

“I’d heard that senior school students in a previous headmistress’s time, were having to watch … An Inconvenient Truth. Catchy title, but sadly short on delivery as far as truth is concerned, e.g. the sad loss of polar bears, when actually their numbers have increased…”

The folks who ‘fact-check’ at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) seemed to feel that Ms. Rinehart needed to be taken down a peg for the temerity of that remark, perhaps as it afforded an opportunity to take me down along with her: it seems some things I’ve said or published over the last few years were identified by her office as the source of her remark that polar bear numbers had increased.

In a long-winded essay of more than 2,500 words published yesterday (26 October 2021) the fact checkers provide one of the best examples yet of how convoluted is the official answer to the question: have overall polar bear numbers declined or increased over time? They interviewed a number of experts from the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) who had a lot to say but claimed it is impossible to address the global population issue.

Sadly, the question of how many polar bears exist today compared to decades ago is unnecessarily complicated and messy, as I discovered years ago. I dealt with this topic in my latest book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, so for now I’ll just quote a bit from one of the chapters and let you decide for yourselves if the experts quoted by the ABC fact-checkers have a strong enough case to say without question that Rinehart was wrong. For example, you might ask why the PBSG experts used the estimate generated for the Kara Sea subpopulation of about 3,000 bears compiled by Russian researchers (Matishov et al. 2014) for their official IUCN 2015 assessment (Wiig et al. 2015; Regehr et al. 2016) but didn’t include that number in this ‘fact-check document – or why they similarly used an estimate of 2,000 for East Greenland for the 2015 assessment but provide no number for this ‘fact-check’. I’ll probably have more to say later.

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No signs of a climate emergency for W. Hudson Bay polar bears this year ahead of UN climate meeting

I’ve been told that another complete aerial survey of the Western Hudson Bay polar bear subpopulation (from the Nunavut to Ontario boundaries) was conducted in August this year and that the bears have been hanging out further south than usual. It will be years before the results of the population count are published, of course (especially if it’s good news) but my contacts also say virtually all of the bears are in great condition again this year.

This is significant because W. Hudson Bay bears are one of the most southern subpopulations in the Arctic (only Southern HB bears live further south) and older data from this region is being used to predict the future for the entire global population based on implausible model projections (Molnar et al. 2020). And scary predictions of future polar bear survival are often taken to be proxies for future human disasters (see ‘Polar bears live on the edge of the climate change crisis‘), a point that some activists will no doubt make in the coming weeks, as the long-awaited UN climate change bash #26 (COP26) gets underway in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31.

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Wrangel Island research team counted a record number of Chukchi Sea polar bears in 2020

Many Chukchi Sea polar bears spend the summer on Wrangel Island and a survey there conducted by Russian researchers in 2020 reportedly collected data on a record 747 bears, well up from the 589 reportedly counted in 2017 by the same team (photo below is from 2015).

Note the latest survey of the Chukchi Sea estimated about 3,000 bears inhabit the region (AC SWG 2018; Regehr et al. 2018), at least 1,000 more that the figure of 2,000 used in recent IUCN assessments and survival predictions (Amstrup et al. 2007; Regehr et al. 2016; Wiig et al. 2015). Wrangel Island is the primary terrestrial denning area in the Chukchi Sea (Garner et al. 1984; Rode et al. 2014) and a recently published study showed that the body condition (i.e. fatness) and litter size of Chukchi Sea polar bears has not been negatively affected by low summer sea ice (Rode et al. 2021).

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Still waiting for two thirds of polar bears worldwide to disappear due to lack of summer sea ice

It’s hard to believe that a polar bear specialist would claim that their predictions have come true, given the facts of the matter: that polar bears arguably number over 30,000 worldwide and regions with the most dramatic sea ice declines have not documented reduced polar bear health or survival. But in mid-July this year, Andrew Derocher – one of the field’s most vocal promoters – did just that: proclaimed on twitter that “virtually all of our predictions are coming true.” Except, none of them did, especially the most widely-promoted one, which failed spectacularly.

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As much Beaufort Sea polar bear habitat at mid-July 2021 as there was in 1982

Beaufort Sea ice coverage is about average for this time of year, again failing to decline in lock-step with other Arctic regions. Will there be lots of fat bears onshore like there was in 2019? Only time will tell.

Healthy polar bear male at Kaktovik, Alaska on the Southern Beaufort Sea, September 2019, Ed Boudreau photo, with permission.
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Constant dire predictions have been an attempt to counter effective criticism of polar bears as AGW icon says outgoing PGSG chair

In an unexpected statement, Dag Vongraven (the out-going Chairman of the Polar Bear Specialist Group) suggests that much of the incessant dire warnings of doom about the future of polar bears from PBSG members has been a counter-measure to offset the effective efforts by myself and others to expose the flawed rhetoric this group promotes.

You may remember Vongraven, who in 2014 famously sent me an email alerting me to a PBSG statement that later came back to bite them (in part because it was included in a CBC documentary called The Politics of Polar Bears later that year, see below):

It is important to realize that this range [i.e. their polar bear population estimate] never has been an estimate of total abundance in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand.

Will this be another? You be the judge.

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