Tag Archives: declining

Zoos abrogate their position of trust by misleading the public about polar bears

Since at least 2007, zoos around the world have proudly partnered with climate change activist organization Polar Bears International to ‘educate’ the public about the plight of polar bears. Although contrary to all expectations, polar bear numbers have increased slightly since the abrupt decline of sea ice in 2007 yet zoos are still promoting the false message that polar bears have already been gravely harmed by lack of sea ice.

CTV News on pb sightings Labrador as climate change warning

A news clip that aired on Canadian television in April 2019 was ostensibly about recent sightings of polar bears in Labrador (which I discussed here). But it digressed rapidly into a baseless diatribe about polar bears as victims of climate change, delivered by an animal keeper from the Toronto Zoo presented as an ‘expert’ on this topic.

See it here (about 4 minutes long).

And while I have no doubt that Toronto Zoo curator Maria Frankie is indeed an expert in keeping mammals in captivity, she appears to have zero qualifications to speak with any critical scientific authority on climate change, sea ice variability, or polar bear survival in the wild.

Frankie is complicit in spreading misinformation about polar bears to an unwary public (including children) as a method of spurring political action on climate change as surely as David Attenborough is to blame for spreading misinformation about Pacific walrus. She is being used by PBI but is too naive to realize it.

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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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Even with Inuit lives at stake, polar bear specialists make unsupported claims

The standoff between Inuit and polar bear specialists regarding the status of polar bears in Canada is not going to end until someone in authority demands to see the data scientists insist contradict Inuit knowledge.

Macleans to kill a polar bear headline 21 April 2019

An article in Maclean’s Magazine (15 April 2019), entitled “To Kill a Polar Bear”, explores some of the feelings and opinions of folks involved but fails to ask whether the data support the rhetoric advanced by scientists. Author Aaron Hutchins takes the scientists at their word, that seeing more bears than 20 years ago is all because of lack of sea ice. However, from what I’ve seen, he might as well trust a fox in a hen house.

Ian Stirling is quoted by Hutchins insisting that polar bears in Western Hudson Bay continue to suffer from the effects of declining sea ice, without mentioning that ice cover has been essentially static on Hudson Bay since at least 2001 (Castro de al Guardia et al. 2017; Lunn et al. 2016) and fall freeze up dates for the last two years were earlier than most years in the 1980s:

“This year saw the seventh-lowest Arctic sea ice levels since the National Snow and Ice Data Center first started gathering satellite data 40 years ago, with the long-term trend clearly downwards. And the negative effects on polar bears can be clearly seen in the science, says Stirling, pointing to the closely studied subpopulation along western Hudson Bay: “They’re losing body condition. Reproductive rates have dropped. Survival rates of young have plummeted. Every indication you would expect from a declining population is there.”

However, as I’ve pointed out previously (last year and in 2012), there are no recent data published that support these claims: the only information that exists is at least 25 years old. And the fact that no such data have been published suggests strongly that it either does not exist or does not show what Stirling claims it shows.

Yet, the government of Canada is willing to bet the lives of Inuit on their belief that polar bear specialists would never stretch the truth to qualify for government grants.

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Polar bear numbers, margins of error, & consequences for conservation status

Large margins of error in polar bear population estimates means the conservation status threshold of a 30% decline (real or predicted) used by the US Endangered Species Act and the IUCN Red List is probably not valid for this species.

Polar_Bear_Biologist_USFWS_working_with_a_Bear_Oct 24 2001 Amstrup photo

Several recent subpopulation estimates have shown an increase between one estimate and another of greater than 30% yet deemed not to be statistically significant due to large margins of error. How can such estimates be used to assess whether population numbers have declined enough to warrant IUCN Red List or ESA protection?

What do polar bear population numbers mean for conservation status, if anything?

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Baffin Bay and Kane Basin polar bears not ‘declining’ concludes new report

The 2016 Scientific Working Group report on Baffin Bay and Kane Basin polar bears was released online without fanfare last week, confirming what local Inuit have been saying for years: contrary to the assertions of Polar Bear Specialist Group scientists, Baffin Bay and Kane Basin subpopulations have not been declining but are stable.


Until recently, the Baffin Bay (BB) and Kane Basin (KB) polar bear subpopulations, that live between NW Greenland, and Baffin and Ellesmere Islands, were assessed with confidence by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) to be declining due to suspected over-hunting (see 2016 Report, Ch. 1, pg. 4).

It turns out they were wrong.


New (2016) polar bear subpopulation estimates for BB and KB:

Baffin Bay 2,826 (95% CI = 2,059-3,593) at 2013

                  [vs. 1546 (95% CI = 690-2,402) expected 2004]

                  vs. 2,074 (95% CI = 1,553-2,595) in 1997

  Kane Basin357 (95% CI: 221 – 493) at 2013

                    vs. 164 (95% CI: 94 – 234) in 1997

[1997 figures from 2015 IUCN Red List estimates, from Supplement, pg. 8); 2004 “expected” figure for Baffin Bay from 2016 SWG report, Ch. 1, pg. 4]

In 2014, Environment Canada’s assessments were ‘data deficient’ for Kane Basin and ‘likely declining’ for Baffin Bay (see map below):

However, the results of this new study (conducted 2011-2013) would likely make KB in the map above dark blue (‘stable’), and BB light blue (‘likely stable’), depending on how the new information is interpreted (given differences in methodology between the 1991-1997 and 2011-2013 counts). Note that a recent paper by Jordan York, Mitch Taylor and others (York et al. 2016) suggested this outcome for Baffin Bay was likely (i.e. ‘stable’) but thought that the status of Kane Basin would remain ‘declining.’

This new information leaves only the Southern Beaufort subpopulation (SB) in a ‘likely declining’ condition, but since that decline was due to thick spring ice conditions in 2004-2006 (Crockford 2017), it does not reflect a response to recent loss of summer sea ice. The new population estimates for Baffin Bay and Kane Basin also suggests that a revision needs to be made to the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment with respect to the global population estimate because polar bears are clearly more abundant in Baffin Bay and Kane Basin than previously thought.

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W. Hudson Bay polar bear numbers declined then stabilized, says new paper

Polarbear_Parks Canada Wapusk in August

Western Hudson Bay bear, Wakusp National Park, August 2011.

In the just-published version of their Western Hudson Bay (WHB) population survey conducted in 2011, Nick Lunn and colleagues highlighted in the abstract:

“Our analysis suggested a long-term decline in the number of bears from 1,185 (993-1411) in 1987 to 806 (653-984) in 2011…” 

But they didn’t mention that the 806 estimate for 2011 was based on only a portion of the WHB region (Fig. 1) and has not been accepted by their peers as a valid estimate of the population size. They also failed to mention that the decline occurred due to thick spring ice and/or unsuitable snow conditions for ringed seals between 1989 and 1992 (Fig. 2), which resulted in reduced availability of polar bear prey (as I discussed in detail in Crockford 2015).

They know the “long-term” population decline is what the media will grab onto and run with – rather than the next sentence, which says “In the last 10 years of the study, the number of bears appeared stable due to temporary stability in sea ice conditions.

In other words, their study shows there has been no decline in the population since 2004, which had been predicted to occur (see previous post, Prediction #1), and there has been no trend in either breakup or freeze-up dates between 2001 and 2010 (or since). See previous post on the government report on which this paper is based here.

The bottom line is this: no one is buying this population estimate of 806 bears for the Western Hudson Bay population – both the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group and Environment Canada are using Seth Stapleton and colleagues (2014) estimate from their aerial survey done the same year and that official population size number is 1030 bears. Continue reading