Tag Archives: facts

Svalbard Norway now has more polar bear habitat than it did two decades ago

Sea ice around Svalbard, Norway at the end of February 2020 is way above average, as the graph below shows – with more polar bear habitat now than there has been in two decades.

Svalbard ice extent 2020 Feb 28 graph_NIS

Some comparison charts below show that the graph above includes some very high ice years in the 1980s (reaching that dotted line above the mean) for which only global charts are available.

However, contrary to suggestions that more Svalbard ice is better for polar bears, there is no evidence that low extent of sea ice habitat in winter or summer over the last two decades harmed polar bear health, reproductive performance, or abundance. In fact, polar bear numbers in 2015 were 42% higher than they were in 2004 (although not a significant increase, statistically speaking) and most bears were found to be in excellent condition.

Svalbard polar bear_Aars August 2015-NP058930_press release

This suggests a return to more extensive ice to the Svalbard region in winter will have little impact on the health of the entire Barents Sea subpopulation, although it might change where pregnant females are able to make their maternity dens if ice forms early enough in the fall. In other words, the population should continue to grow as it has been doing since the bears were protected by international treaty in 1973.

UPDATE 3 March 2020: According to 28 February tweet by the Norwegian Ice Service, which I just saw today, “the last time there was this much sea ice around Svalbard on this day of the year [28 February] was 2004“. Somehow, I missed 2004 when I was looking through the archive, so I have modified the text below accordingly; see the 2004 chart below and here.

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Claims polar bear cannibalism on the rise in Russian Arctic not supported by facts

The Guardian today expanded on a story published in the Moscow Times that quotes a Russian scientist claiming cannibalism among polar bears is on the rise in the Russian Arctic. However, the scientist offered no numbers to support this claim and there is no suggestion he had done a study on this phenomenon.

Cannibalism video 2015 Nat Geo_off Baffin Island

As I’ve said before, incidents of cannibalism cannot be said to be increasing because there is no scientific baseline for which recent occurrences can be compared. Scattered anecdotal reports of any behaviour cannot be touted as evidence for a trend even though they may be of interest and worth recording.

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Why are polar bears going extinct?

Google says many people ask this question so here is the correct answer: polar bears are not going extinct. If you have been told that, you have misunderstood or have been misinformed. Polar bears are well-distributed across their available habitat and population numbers are high (officially 22,000-31,000 at 2015 but likely closer to 26,000-58,000 at 2018): these are features of a healthy, thriving species. ‘Why are polar bears going extinct?’ contains a false premise – there is no need to ask ‘why’ when the ‘polar bears [are] going extinct’ part is not true.1

Mother with cubs Russia_shutterstock_71694292_web size

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Polar Bear Scare Unmasked: The Saga of a Toppled Global Warming Icon [another look]

For almost twenty years, , we’ve endured the shrill media headlines, the hyperbole from conservation organizations, and the simplistic platitudes from scientists as summer sea ice declined dramatically while polar bear numbers rose. This video of mine from two years ago, which deconstructs the scare, is worth another look as International Polar Bear Day approaches with its associated ‘save the polar bear’ rhetoric.

Fat adult polar bear shot in Svalbard New Years Eve after persistent visits to Longyearbyen

Another rare winter visit by a polar bear on New Year’s Eve, this time in Svalbard, comes with far more detail than the sighting in Newfoundland that I wrote about yesterday.

Svalbard 7 yr old male polar_bear shot 31 Dec 2019_photo_sysselmannen

The Svalbard problem bear was shot over safety concerns after repeated visits to the downtown streets of the main town of Longyearbyen on the west coast (see map below). Neither of the reports bothered to mention that this was not a starving juvenile bear but a fat, healthy young adult – and no one blamed global warming for the incident because Svalbard has had extensive ice on the west coast this fall for the first time since 2010. The shooting of course sparked an outburst of social media outrage.
Longyearbyen_location_Wikipedia

UPDATED 16 January 2020: As I predicted would happen (see below), there has been another polar bear incident about 10 km outside of Longyearbyen in Bolterdalen. On Wednesday 15 January, a bear attacked a dogteam loaded with tourists near the end of their trip. The bear was advancing so fast there was no time for the driver to grab his rifle, so he used the heavy rope used to brake the sled to hit the bear across the muzzle several times. This stopped the attack and made the bear run off.  Svalbard officials are now chasing the bear well out of the area. From this report:

“Starinsky, a guide for Green Dog Svalbard, located about 10 kilometers east of Longyearbyen, told the newspaper there was no time to grab his rifle as they stopped the sleds within seconds, and the bear got within yards of a sled carrying a mother and her daughter. He grabbed “the first and best” thing he could think of – the noose-shaped brake rope hanging on the front of his sled.”

It turns out the bear’s tracks were spotted the day before just south of town. All that remains of the attack are the tracks of the bear near the dog kennel, below, and the nightmares of the people involved in the days ahead. They were very lucky indeed.

Svalbard polar bear encounter 15 Jan 2020_footprints

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European outrage over my loss of adjunct status and video of my Dutch school lecture

I’ve been home for just over 3 weeks now but even with all the demands on my time from family, friends, colleagues, and the media that I had to put off while I was away, I didn’t want to miss setting down a few final thoughts about my speaking tour across Europe. See previous posts here and here.

Polar bear beer ISBJORN_Jan Erik OSLO 23 Oct 2019

Polar bear beer had a prominent place at the post-conference dinner in Oslo.

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Ryrkaypiy ‘over-run’ by >50 polar bears is probably due to more Chukchi Sea bears

A scary-sounding headline from the BBC today screams “Ryrkaypiy: Far-north Russian village overrun by polar bears“. A little research would have shown (as I do below) that this sort of event is not unusual for this village, there is adequate sea ice off the coast to allow polar bears to hunt for seals if they choose to do so, and the photos provided do not support the claim that almost all of the polar bears “appeared to be thin” (see photo below and others). Similar incidents happened in 2013 and 2006. Increasing numbers of Chukchi Sea polar bears is the most plausible explanation for the recent abundance of bears at this village.

BBC Russian village Chukotka over run by polar bears BBC 5 Dec 2019 headline

BBC headline, 5 December 2019. Does that look like garbage these fat bears are feeding on or the frozen remains of dead walruses at the base of the Cape Schmidt cliff?

UPDATE 8 December 2019: A Daily Mail version of the same story (6 Dec) confirms the photo above is of bears feeding on walrus remains (not garbage) and has many more photos (plus a video) of a large number of bears, not a single one of which that I saw was ‘skinny’ (see quotes from the story below). See also the Siberian Times version (6 Dec) with the same pictures. My source for the story was an article published by the BBC, which ran the day before (5 Dec).

UPDATE 9 DECEMBER 2019: Now it’s apparently 63 polar bears threatening the village of Ryrkaypiy on the Chukotka coast, according to the Siberian Times yesterday and repeated by the Daily Mail (with more pictures and video). Russian media getting lots of mileage out of this one. The story now says the bears are feeding on “seals”, not walrus (to deflect attention over their long history of walrus/polar bear problems? Or just a bad translation?). Both stories repeat the claim that most of the bears are “skinny” despite the photos showing just the opposite: lots of fat, healthy bears.

Also, uniquely (and rather bizarrely), the Daily Mail piece claims the bears are being deprived of the “fish” they should be consuming:

Instead of hunting for fish in deeper waters , the bears are eating seal carcasses left in autumn.

Last year army servicemen cleared the village’s shore of remains of dead seals on which the bears are feeding.

Obviously written by someone who knows absolutely nothing about polar bears, who rarely, if ever, eat fish and certainly would not be eating fish at this time of year. Sea ice map below for 8 December 2019 from the Alaska Sea Ice Program for 8 December shows, as noted below, that there is enough ice offshore for the bears to hunt seals if they chose to do so (since eating long-dead walrus is much easier than going hunting):

Chukchi Sea ice stage of development 8 Dec 2019 Alaska Sea Ice program

UPDATE 14 December 2019: Apparently, the number of invading bears is now 72 (number gets higher every time someone asks, even though they are still talking about “about a week ago”: who exactly is doing the counting?), according to a story today in The Times (UK). Residents say they move walrus carcasses “away” from the village to a “feeding point” for the bears but it’s apparent the distance is insufficient to prevent problems with bears coming into town. While a local cleaner working for the polar bear patrol (well indoctrinated by the WWF who sponsor the program), proclaims the problem is “definitely” due to climate change, there is finally the admission in this article that the bears coming into town are young bears driven away from the walrus carcasses by larger, older animals (i.e. intra-specific competition). This piece also has a few new photos, including one (below) of fat bears getting into garbage (still no photos of the so-called “skinny” bears said to dominate this “invasion”) and also is the first I’ve seen that doesn’t state that there is no sea ice (only that the ice extent is lower than usual). Some progress, but balanced by the hype promoted earlier this week (at “Treehugger” – what a surprise) by former WWF activist Geoff York (now at Polar Bears International), who is still blaming this incident on lack of ice.

Ryrkaypiy bears in local garbage_The Times UK 14 Dec 2019

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