On Polar Bears, Don’t Buy the Hype

Global warming hysterics have adopted the polar bear as a mascot, even though I believe it is undisputed that polar bear populations are robust. One false claim about the bears after another is debunked, yet the misrepresentations take on a life of their own and are endlessly repeated. A case in point: the Washington Post published a piece, reprinted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, about the bears’ purported woes. Most of the article is about alleged northward DNA migration. It sounds like pseudo science, but note this factual claim near the end:

Writing for NOAA’s Arctic Report Card, Geoff York, a director of conservation at Polar Bears International, wrote about the effect on the region’s largest predator.

Their population declined from about 1,200 to 800 in the western Hudson Bay area of Canada over 24 years starting in 1987, largely because sea ice breaks up earlier and freezes later in a shortened season.

The author of the article was unaware–and perhaps Mr. York was as well–that the claim of a steep decline in the western Hudson Bay bear population has been withdrawn by those who originally made it. Nunatsiaq Online has the story. But first, this observation: the Inuit are the people who live with polar bears and know the most about them. They have a direct interest in claims about polar bear decline, because they want to hunt the bears, and if global warming hysteria is accepted by the authorities, their bear harvest declines precipitously. No one but the Inuit has much interest in rebutting the implausible claims of the global warming hysterics.

Around the same time, the CWS did another study, claiming the subpopulation had fallen to 806.

“The 2011 population estimate for Western Hudson Bay subpopulation based on capture-recapture analysis is 806 bears with 95% confidence intervals of 653-984,” Environment Canada said at the time, producing more fear among people who believe that the demise of the polar bear is imminent, due to global warming.

But by 2011, the GN, working with the government of Manitoba, did a counter-study of its own.

In it, they counted polar bears from the air, and came up with a population claim of 1,030, much higher than the earlier CWS studies. … And they said the subpopulation now is likely stable.

Those who did the original calculation–a mathematical construct, not an actual count–have now walked it back. You have to wade through some verbiage to understand that:

“We used a Bayesian implementation of multistate capture-recapture models, coupled with a matrix-based demographic projection model, to integrate several types of data and to incorporate variation across the polar bear life cycle,” they said in a summary of a 50-page report they produced in November 2013.

“Bayesian implementation” means the use of a certain kind of logic to determine whether certain types of events are probable in the future, and how probable they might be.

And by doing that they found their earlier predictions were off — and that the population is now stable.

“This updated population assessment suggests that polar bear numbers in Western Hudson Bay have been relatively stable over approximately the past decade,” Environment Canada said.

Yet the false claim of a one-third decline in that subpopulation, from 1,200 to 800, continues to circulate.

Happily, there is at least one polar bear scientist who isn’t taking money from far-left environmentalists and places science about politics. Her name is Susan Crockford, and she has a site called Polar Bear Science. We commend it to your attention. She blows the whistle on another case of polar bear deception by global warming activists:

Polar bears are a conservation success story. However, you’d never know that from the output of polar bear researchers, who lately seem to have forgotten that the most crucial part of their job is the unbiased collection and presentation of scientific data.

The most recent example of this disturbing conduct came to light this fall. A new peer-reviewed paper hyped by the media was published by a research team that included several senior biologists belonging to the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG). …

The researchers took population estimates from a previous study (conducted 2001-2006) and added four years of new data (2007-2010). They used a computer model, developed by lead author Jeff Bromaghin, to suggest that a severe decline had occurred from 2004 to 2006, with a modest recovery from 2007 to 2010. The size of the polar bear population in 2010 was estimated at about 900 bears (range 606-1,212), a drop of about 40% from the 2006 estimate of 1,526 (range 1,211-1,841).

We are talking about another polar bear subpopulation, not the total number of bears in the Arctic.

However, the polar bear researchers knew before starting their new field work in 2007 that the 2004-2006 polar bear population crash had occurred, and they knew why: Sea ice in the Southern Beaufort was unusually thick in the mid-2000s during the critical spring feeding period. Periodic thick spring ice is a phenomenon unique to this region and is known to have occurred every decade since at least the 1960s.

That is rather ironic, if you take warmism seriously: the bear population took a hit because the sea ice was too thick.

During springs with thick sea ice, ringed seals (polar bears’ primary prey) either moved elsewhere to have their pups or were harder to find. Every time this happened, the food scarcity caused wide-spread starvation among polar bears – mothers with cubs and sub-adult bears were especially hard-hit.

Thick spring ice conditions in 1974, for example, were just as severe as in 2004-2006, and a similar crash in polar bear numbers occurred. More importantly, the 1970s polar bear population decline was followed by a rebound in numbers, a fact known to at least one of those involved in the recent study (Stirling).

The authors had to have realized a cut-off date of 2010 would produce a misleadingly-low population estimate

So why did the authors terminate their study period at 2010, when data from field work was available until 2013 (a fact evident from another paper)? They must have known that cubs born in 2007, when survival of bears began to improve, would not have been old enough to produce cubs themselves by 2010. The authors had to have realized a cut-off date of 2010 would produce a misleadingly low population estimate.

It is apparent that the polar bear population indeed recovered because, in 2012, a different survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found numbers were higher than they had been since 2002. This critical fact was missing from the new paper, its press release, and interview statements made by some of the co-authors.

But the deceptive numbers generated by the faux-scientist activists will live on forever, or at least until catastrophic anthropogenic global warming is exposed as the greatest scientific fraud in human history.

One last thing: speaking of Hudson’s Bay, where bears ostensibly have been rapidly disappearing, has there been some major decline in sea ice? Susan Rockford notes that Hudson Bay sea ice is currently above average. Click to enlarge:


Climate is always changing, if slowly; weather is highly variable; and animal populations fluctuate too, much more so than many seem to understand. Polar bears have been around for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. They have lived through climates both warmer and colder than the present. They will do just fine, no matter what absurd policies may be adopted by Western governments. Whether the same can be said of us, remains to be seen.