Tag Archives: facts

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London, 27 February: A prominent Canadian zoologist says that Facebook’s information is gravely out of date and 2020 was another good year for polar bears.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IUCN’s 2015 Red List assessment for polar bears, which Facebook uses as an authority for ‘fact checking’, is seriously out of date.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.

Interview with Tom Harris about the state of polar bear conservation Part 2

Here is the second part of a great conversation I had recently with Tom Harris from iHeartRADIO (‘Exploratory Journeys with Tom Harris’) about polar bear conservation, the price I’ve paid for speaking out about polar bears and my new polar bear science book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. We also talked about my polar bear attack thriller, EATEN. Have a listen to the podcast here! Part 1 is here in case you missed it.


Top six polar bear stories of 2020

Here are the six most important polar bear stories I wrote about in 2020 that are worth reading if you missed them.


These posts cover new evidence that polar bears are thriving (including more populations stable or increasing) despite recent declines in summer sea ice blamed on climate change, an explanation of why the simplistic ‘less ice, fewer bears’ is false and a short post that shows a much-publicized new model predicting future extinction of polar bears is scientifically implausible. Honourable mention goes to a story refuting the claim that Alaskan polar bear cubs are at risk from oil exploration in coastal Wildlife Refuge.

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Speculation on ice-trapped whales: science-based fiction vs. dishonest science

Ice entrapment of whales is known to happen across the Arctic, including Davis Strait and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. How common such phenomena were in the past or might be in the future are subjects of conjecture. However, while speculation is the bread-and-butter of science-based fiction, it is the bane of peer-reviewed science.

I’ve written two novels informed by science set a bit in the future (2025-2026) in Eastern Canada: EATEN was set in Newfoundland and my latest book UPHEAVAL –see a review here – is set in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. In UPHEAVAL, one of the issues I explore is ice entrapment of large whales, like North Atlantic right whales. I speculate in the story whether carcasses of ice-killed whales might provide a powerful enough attraction to lure Davis Strait polar bears down from Labrador and the Strait of Belle Isle into the Gulf of St. Lawrence – and if they did, what might be the repercussions of that shift in distribution.

Here I argue that a novel is the appropriate place for this kind of speculation and researchers who offer such conjecture to the public in a way that conflates a science-informed guess with evidence-based fact risks eroding public trust in science.

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Sceptical covid-19 research and sceptical polar bear science: is there a difference?

This essay about medical researchers having trouble getting their papers published because the results don’t support the official pandemic narrative has disturbing parallels with my experience trying to inject some balance into the official polar bear conservation narrative.1 Especially poignant is the mention of models built on assumptions sold as ‘facts’ that fail once data (i.e. evidence) become available – which of course is the entire point of my latest book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.

Read the commentary below, copied from Lockdownsceptics.org (6 September 2020). Bold in original, link added to the story to which this is a response, and brief notes and links added as footnotes for parallels with polar bear conservation science. Continue reading

10 fallacies about Arctic sea ice & polar bear survival refute misleading ‘facts’

This updated blog post of mine from last year is as pertinent now as it was then: it’s a fully-referenced rebuttal to the misleading ‘facts’ so often presented this time of year to support the notion that polar bears are being harmed due to lack of summer sea ice. Polar Bears International developed ‘Arctic Sea Ice Day’ (15 July) to promote their skewed interpretation of polar bear science at the height of the Arctic melt season. This year I’ve add a ‘Polar Bears and the Arctic Food Chain‘ graphic, which readers are free to download and share. For further information, see “The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened“.

Polar bear top of Arctic food chain 7 July 2020

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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.