Just in time for Polar Bears International’s self-proclaimed fall Polar Bear Week (5-11 November 2017), here’s a new resource for cooling the polar bear spin. I’ve updated my 2015 summary of reasons not to worry about polar bears, which is now more than two years old. In this new version, you will find links to supporting information, including published papers and fully referenced blog posts of mine that provide background, maps and bibliographies, although some of the most important graphs and maps have been reproduced here. I hope you find it a useful resource for refuting the pessimism and prophecies of catastrophe about the future of polar bears. Please feel free to share it.
As global leaders meet in Bonn for COP23 (6-17 November 2017), it’s time to celebrate the proven resilience of polar bears to their ever-changing Arctic environment.
Twenty Reasons: the bullet points
- Polar bears are still a conservation success story: there are more polar bears now than there were 40 years ago.
- Fewer populations are in decline than in 2010 (only one, officially) and only six are data deficient (down from nine).
- Abrupt summer sea ice decline has not affected polar bear numbers as predicted: even though sea ice levels dropped to mid-century levels in 2007, the expected decimation of polar bears failed to occur.
- The Chukchi Sea population is thriving despite a pronounced lengthening of the ice-free season since 2007.
- Less sea ice in the summer in the Chukchi Sea has meant a healthy prey base for polar bears because ringed seals feed primarily in the ice-free season.
- Polar bears have shown themselves to be adaptable to changing ice conditions in several regions.
- Southern Beaufort numbers have rebounded since the last survey count.
- Barents Sea numbers have probably increased since 2005 and have definitely not declined despite much less sea ice cover.
- There is no evidence that record-low summer sea ice in 2012 had a harmful effect on Southern Beaufort bear numbers.
- Other species are being negatively impacted by high polar bear numbers, especially nesting sea birds and ducks.
- Western Hudson Bay population numbers have been stable since 2004, despite what scientists are telling the media.
- Hudson Bay sea ice has not changed since about 1999: breakup dates and freeze-up dates are highly variable but the ice-free period was not any longer in 2015 than it was in 2004. However, this fall freeze-up is shaping up to be the earliest in decades.
- Problem bears in Churchill are not lean or starving.
- Churchill Manitoba had the most problem bears in 1983 and 2016, which were late freeze-up years, but many of the incidents in 2016 can be attributed to increased vigilance on the part of patrol officers after an attack in 2013.
- There have been only marginal sea ice declines during the feeding period in spring, when polar bears need sea ice the most.
- The is no evidence that subsistence hunting is affecting bear populations.
- Stressful research methods have been curtailed in much of Canada.
- There have been no reports of polar bear cannibalism since 2011.
- Polar bears appear unaffected by pollution: studies suggest only that harm is theoretically possible, not that it has happened.
- Polar bears have survived past warm periods, which is evidence they have the ability to survive future warm periods.
- Polar bears are thriving: they are not currently threatened with extinction.
- Tens of thousands of polar bears did not die as a result of more than a decade of low summer sea ice, as was predicted.
- Polar bears don’t need sea ice in late summer/early fall as long as they are well-fed in the spring.
[full text below, pdf with footnotes and references here]
As I reported Thursday, the IUCN announcement of a new Red List assessment for polar bear got the usual overwrought attention from international media outlets. However, not one of these contained a quote from a polar bear biologist.
Steven Amstrup, science spokesperson for activist conservation organization Polar Bears International, has so far had nothing to say to the media. Yet, Amstrup was a co-author of the IUCN Red List report. Not until late in the day following the release of the report did his his organization’s website post a short, bland news report (“Climate Change Still Primary Threat to Polar Bears”).
Similarly, Ian Stirling, Andrew Derocher, Nicholas Lunn (also a co-author of the IUCN Red List report), and former WWF employee Geoff York – who are usual go-to guys for polar-bears-are-all-going-to-die media frenzies – have so far been silent and invisible on this issue.
In addition, while the IUCN press release [backup here: 2015 IUCN Red List press release_Nov 19 2015] included a quote from IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) chairman Dag Vongraven, as of this morning (21 November, PST), the website of the PBSG contains no mention of this decision – no item in the “News” category and, more importantly, no update of the status table or global estimates to reflect the changes contained in the report (even though they obviously knew it was coming months ago: the report was submitted to the IUCN Red List 27 August 2015).
In my opinion, this silence says it all: polar bear specialists know this assessment is a severe de facto critique of their 2008 assessment (as well as Amstrup’s predictive models) and it’s a big step backwards for their conservation activism. I expect they are silent because they are royally pissed off.
However, this assessment is good news because finally, some standards of scientific rigor have been applied to polar bear predictive models – even though the PBSG were still been allowed to pretend that summer sea ice coverage is critical to polar bear health and survival (Crockford 2015). Continue reading
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged Amstrup, climate change, conservation, Derocher, extinction, global warming, good news, IUCN, Lunn, polar bear, polar bear facts, Polar Bear Specialist Group, predictions, Red list, sea ice, Standards, status, Stirling, Vongraven, vulnerable
Today’s the day to celebrate the resilience and adaptability of polar bears.
Not only did the record-breaking sea ice low of 2012 have virtually no effect on the bears but in 2014, only two subpopulations were classified as “declining” or “likely declining” – down from seven in 2010 and four in 2013 (see map below).
See my recent “Twenty good reasons not to worry about polar bears.”
[GWPF Briefing Paper version (pdf), just out today, here]
POLAR BEARS IN THE NEWS…
Kudos to the CBC for producing a propaganda-free polar bear “Fun Facts” page for kids that won’t give them nightmares – have a look.
Other news: Polar bears come early to Black Tickle, Labrador this year, a new population count is planned for the Barents Sea subpopulation, and The Times (UK) publishes some good news about polar bears. Details below.
UPDATE February 27, 2015. I’ve added another news item I missed below.
UPDATE APRIL 7, 2015. Correction to the February 27 update below.
Posted in Conservation Status, Population, Summary
Tagged Barents Sea, Black Tickle, briefing paper, conservation success, extralimital sighting, good news, Gulf of St. Lawrence, Labrador, polar bear, population estimate, sea ice
Finally, an unbiased first-hand report about Churchill polar bears and freeze-up on Hudson Bay.
Over the last few weeks, biologists Andrew Derocher and Steve Amstrup have been repeating their tired old tales of doom and gloom about the polar bears around Churchill and I’ve done my best to refute the worst of their nonsense.
Figure 1. Polar bear female with cub, 2009, Churchill, Western Hudson Bay. Wikipedia.
To that effort we can now add this report from PolarBearAlley, where Kelsey Eliasson has posted a good-news story about the bears of Cape Churchill and the progress of freeze-up, including sightings of a number of mothers with cubs.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Amstrup, Churchill, Derocher, extinction, freeze-up, good news, Kelsey Eliasson, mothers with cubs, polar bear, PolarBearAlley, sea ice, Wapusk National Park, western hudson bay
There is far more ice — and far more concentrated ice — in Canada this year than on this day last year. That’s good news for most polar bear populations.
[And, it turns out, more ice total this year on this date than there has been since 2001!]
I’ve made a composite 2014/2013 ice map for 4 November that tells the story (courtesy daily Canadian Ice Service sea ice maps).
Posted in Sea ice habitat
Tagged Amundsen Gulf, Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Canadian Ice Service, Coronation Gulf, Foxe Basin, good news, habitat, ice maps, polar bear, Queen Maud Gulf, sea ice, sea ice concentration, Southern Route
According to maps dated June 2014, Environment Canada (EC) has changed the trend status of several Canadian subpopulations — without any announcement or publicly-available documents explaining the basis of the changes.
Figure 1. Environment Canada’s “Map 4: Series of Circumpolar Polar Bear Subpopulation and Status Trend Maps 2010, 2013 & 2014.” Original here.
And would it surprise you to learn that virtually all of these status changes reveal more good news about polar bears?
Posted in Conservation Status, Population
Tagged Canada, conservation status, Davis Strait, Environment Canada, good news, IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, Nick Lunn, PBSG, polar bear, Polar Bear Technical Committee, population estimate, Southern Beaufort, trends, western hudson bay