Polar bear group admits population estimates were a "guess"

IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group says its global population estimate was “a qualified guess”

pbsg logoBy Dr. Susan Crockford

Last week (May 22), I received an unsolicited email from Dr. Dag Vongraven, the current chairman of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG).


The email from Vongraven began this way:

Dr. Crockford

Below you’ll find a footnote that will accompany a total polar bear population size range in the circumpolar polar bear action plan that we are currently drafting together with the Parties to the 1973 Agreement. This might keep you blogging for a day or two.” [my bold]

It appears the PBSG have come to the realization that public outrage (or just confusion) is brewing over their global population estimates and some damage control is perhaps called for. Their solution — bury a statement of clarification within their next official missive (which I have commented upon here).

Instead of issuing a press release to clarify matters to the public immediately, Vongraven decided he would let me take care of informing the public that this global estimate may not be what it seems.

OK, I’ll oblige (I am traveling in Russia on business and finding it very hard to do even short posts – more on that later). The footnote Vongraven sent is below, with some comments from me. You can decide for yourself if the PBSG have been straight-forward about the nature of their global population estimates and transparent about the purpose for issuing it.

Here is the statement that the PBSG proposes to insert as a footnote in their forthcoming Circumpolar Polar Bear Action Plan draft:

As part of past status reports, the PBSG has traditionally estimated a range for the total number of polar bears in the circumpolar Arctic. Since 2005, this range has been 20-25,000. It is important to realize that this range never has been an estimate of total abundance in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand. It is also important to note that even though we have scientifically valid estimates for a majority of the subpopulations, some are dated. Furthermore, there are no abundance estimates for the Arctic Basin, East Greenland, and the Russian subpopulations. Consequently, there is either no, or only rudimentary, knowledge to support guesses about the possible abundance of polar bears in approximately half the areas they occupy. Thus, the range given for total global population should be viewed with great caution as it cannot be used to assess population trend over the long term. [my bold]

So, the global estimates were “…simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand” and according to this statement, were never meant to be considered scientific estimates, despite what they were called, the scientific group that issued them, and how they were used (see footnote below).

All this glosses over what I think is a critical point: none of these ‘global population estimates’ (from 2001 onward) came anywhere close to being estimates of the actual world population size of polar bears (regardless of how scientifically inaccurate they might have been) — rather, they were estimates of only the subpopulations that Arctic biologists have tried to count.

For example, the PBSG’s  most recent global estimate (range 13,071-24,238) ignores five very large subpopulation regions which between them potentially contain 1/3 as many additional bears as the official estimate includes (see map below). The PBSG effectively gives them each an estimate of zero.

Figure 1. Based on previous PBSG estimates and other research, there are probably another 6,000-9,000 (perhaps less but perhaps more) bears living in the regions marked in black above, although suitably “scientific” population surveys have not been done. These bears are not included in the most recent PBSG “global population estimate” – a ‘rough guess,’ such as suggested here, has been deemed of no use to the PBSG, so their population estimate is “zero.”  CS, Chukchi Sea; LS, Laptev Sea; KS, Kara Sea; EG, East Greenland; AB, Arctic Basin.

Based on previous PBSG estimates and other research reports, it appears there are probably at least another 6,000 or so bears living in these regions and perhaps as many as 9,000 (or more) that are not included in any PBSG “global population estimate”: Chukchi Sea ~2,000-3,000; East Greenland, ~ 2,000-3,000; the two Russian regions together (Laptev Sea and Kara Sea), another ~2,000-3,000 or so, plus 200 or so in the central Arctic Basin. These are guesses, to be sure, but they at least give a potential size

In other words, rather than assigning a “simple, qualified guess” for these subpopulations that have not been formally counted as well as those that have been counted (generating a total figure that is indeed a “global population estimate,” however inaccurate), the PBSG have been passing off their estimate of counted populations as a true global population estimate, with caveats seldom included.

more here: http://polarbearscience.com/2014/05/30/iucn-polar-bear-specialist-group-says-its-global-population-estimate-was-a-qualified-guess/


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Frank K.

Very interesting! I suppose that next we’ll hear from the IPCC as follows:
“It is important to realize that the global average temperature never has been an estimate of the REAL temperature of the Earth in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand.”


Science? What science?

Isn’t it funny how these “qualified guesses” always turn out to slant things in the most alarmist and sensationalist way possible?
I suppose they think that their data was “fake, but accurate.”

The Ghost Of Big Jim Cooley

Over here in England we have a scientist called Brian Cox. He’s very popular. He is one of those scientists that believes science is pure – he’s also a total believer in man-made climate change. I just wish (whenever these sort of things come up) I could say to him, “See, you believe this? Seriously?”.


When the public wants to be fooled someone will always oblige.

Mike SMith

Just a qualified guess but… I’d say the PBSG’s work is pure politics and definitely not science.

Rhoda R

And these “… global estimates (that) were “…simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand” and according to this statement, were never meant to be considered scientific estimates …” were used to determine that polar bears were an endangered species.


So, it COULD be worse than we thought?


Do these people get paid? Do they collect a salary, a stipend? Who funds these fools? Consider all the money spent, all the policy written, all the donations given and all the little kids now in therapy over the pending extinction of these cute polar bears based on a guess. My students guess at answers and I expect that because they are students, We must demand more from scholarly professionals. I suggest these people begin to earn their money and get outta their warm well funded headquarters, head out on the ice and ear tag each and every Bear. They better get moving before winter sets in.


Science? What science…Follow the funding.

The Mighty Quinn

Millions of children cried themselves to sleep over fake reports. Remember that when the Church of Global Warming says: “We do for the children.”

The Mighty Quinn

Remember when the public was demanding fake polar bear numbers? …I don’t.


Thanks to Dr. Crockford for shining light on this subject. It would appear the bears are doing just fine. But, the image of the polar bear clinging to a small piece of ice will continue to be published repeatedly as a warning of what is in store for us.


Polar bears endangered lots of money , Polar bear numbers healthy and growing bye bye cash .
Now you decided which approach is going to be taken by those looking to do research in this area.


why not?…..it’s the same way they do global warming


The 20-25,000 was actually proof that the population has been expanding. The previous estimate was 5,000.


The PBSG is nothing more than a Marxist vanguard organization. It does not take long reading there publications or the information on their web site to come to this conclusion. Everything that come from them must clear a central comity of ideologues to insure that it provides the proper messaging before release.
The whole reason for having a Polar Bear Specialty Group was because the Bear Specialty Group was too heavily involved with Science. Some bear specialists even have political views contrary to what right thinking lefties hold dear, and they are allowed to have a voice! Its hard to produce consistent agitprop with conditions like this.




You mean they could not do some modeling to support that the polar bear population is going down? If it has not been done, this should be a great opportunity to submit some research proposals for at least a $100 million.


This is kind of like that game you play with your kids on a long road trip: “I’m thinking of a number between one and one thousand”

Steve C

The hollow laughter you hear from across the pond is probably mine.

Gary Hladik

“Thus, the range given for total global population should be viewed with great caution as it cannot be used to assess population trend over the long term.”
So based on PBSG’s estimates, no one can say if the “global” polar bear population is stable, growing, or shrinking. We may be able to tell if an individual subpopulation is growing or shrinking, but only if that subpopulation has been well-studied.
According to Polar Bears International, the IUCN PBSG reported in 2013 that 4 subpops are declining, 5 are stable, 1 is growing, and 9 (count ’em) subpops have “insufficient data”. But wait, now Dr. Vongraven admits that even some of the “scientifically valid estimates” are “dated”! So apparently data “insufficient” to even estimate polar bear population trends is sufficient to list polar bears as “threatened”. WUWT?

Dave N

I find it puzzling that a supposedly endangered (cough cough) species doesn’t receive at least a semi-serious head count. Is it because of difficulties in conducting one (too cold to go out and do it, perhaps?), or because they don’t really care as much as they’re making out?

No worries! The spotlight has been taken off the polar bears and is now shining on the poor Antarctic penguin. Their numbers are dwindling you know. They’re almost extinct. Did you hear? And there’s only, exactly, roughly, about……ohhh…..132 left. That’s their best guess.
No wait. 123. The counters were dyslexic.


Qualified? Incompetent as it can be or a complete fraud!
A qualified guess of Polar Bear population according to last countings is between 20 000 to 22 000 Polar Bears….. IF the latest value is used for an analyse, in other word if 11,314,078 km2 (June 1, 2014) is divided with the largest estimated number of Polar Bears, this will give EVERY Polar Bear more than 514 square kilometer polar ice to each Polar Bear. In other words the area for each polar bear to be on his/her own on is appriximate close to six times the area of Manhattan (with 2 decimals 5,87) source for Polar Ice Sheet area Arctic Sea Ice Extent, ijis.iarc.uaf.edu for June 1st 2014
Thus it can’t have been an “estimation” the Polar bear group used, the figures for the number of Polar Bear was as incorrect as could have been,
the figures for the Ice Sheet area is a complete fraudic figure,
and the group showed above all incompetence in Mathematic Statistic analyse not to mention that they never understood basic knowledge in Theories of Science.
Some people never learn elementary knowledge needed in Science studies if they are to be called scientists, experts and so on 🙂

R. de Haan

Well, Obama bought it.


I applaud Vongraven’s efforts to finally come clean and hope it is the beginning of a different type of relationship with “the public”. It’s a step forward, people. Not everything is reason to complain.


What does Coca Cola have to say about this ? You’ll remember the white can polar bear campaign with donations to Greenpus … maybe there is a case for fraud?


I always laugh when I hear that a local polar bear population has declined. You could say some polar bears have moved. Bear in mind that a radio-collared adult female polar bear was clocked on “a continuous swim of 687 km over 9 days and then intermittently swam and walked on the sea ice surface an additional 1,800 km.”


If their estimate of the counted portion of the global population was only a guess, why have they steadfastly refused to guess the population size of the uncounted portion of the population? Why have the PBSG refused to issue an estimate of the entire global population, even if it’s only their best guess? Curious, that.

It’s called funding cuts and loss of self importance. Imagine that! Them having to say polar bear population has grown to over 30,000. The fact is polar bear numbers are too high and we must act now. It’s worse than we thought.


Once again skeptics are proven to be justifiable skeptical. Once again, the climate obsession community is proven to be wrong.


a bit like this***
(3 pages) 1 June: Washington Times: Rowan Scarborough: Pentagon wrestles with bogus climate warnings as funds shifted to green agenda
Ten years ago, the Pentagon paid for a climate study that put forth many scary scenarios.
Consultants told the military that, by now, California would be flooded by inland seas, The Hague would be unlivable, polar ice would be mostly gone in summer, and global temperatures would rise at an accelerated rate as high as 0.5 degrees a year.
None of that has happened.
The 2003 report was produced by a consulting firm, then called the Global Business Network, for the Pentagon’s office of net assessment. It is a driving force to allocate money to counter global threats — in this case, climate change…
***Asked about his scenarios for the 2003-2010 period, Mr. Randall said in an interview: “The report was really looking at worst-case. And when you are looking at worst-case 10 years out, you are not trying to predict precisely what’s going to happen but instead trying to get people to understand what could happen to motivate strategic decision-making and wake people up. But whether the actual specifics came true, of course not. That never was the main intent.”…
i suggest George Monbiot, Suzanne Goldenberg & other CAGW-pushers who have pushed this report to inform their readers it was bogus.o


Donna Quixote says:
June 2, 2014 at 3:50 pm
No worries! The spotlight has been taken off the polar bears and is now shining on the poor Antarctic penguin. Their numbers are dwindling you know. They’re almost extinct. Did you hear? And there’s only, exactly, roughly, about……ohhh…..132 left. That’s their best guess.

If only you knew how near to the bone you are Donna. In the Spring of 2012 a miracle occurred.

13 April 2012
Emperor Penguin Numbers Double Previous Estimates, Satellites Show
…. Emperor penguins in Antarctica are far more plentiful than previously thought, a study that used extremely high-resolution imagery snapped by satellites has revealed.
“It surprised us that we approximately doubled the population estimate,” said Peter Fretwell, a scientist with the British Antarctic Survey and lead author of a paper published today in the journal PLoS One…..
“I imagine that there will be other species analyzed in a similar way in future,” he said.

I can foresee funding CUTS for these kinds of studies in future. Climate science is a funny old game.


PBSG is the UN sponsored group which banned the emeritus expert on bears, Dr Mitch Taylor (by his ex-student Derocher no less!) from attending the 2009 Copenhagen on the grounds that his views running “counter to human-induced climate change are extremely unhelpful”. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/06/27/warmists-deny-copenhagen-access-to-polar-bear-scientist/
I must have missed the actual meaning of “gold standard” science.


So the powers that be demanded a low polar bear count and these “scientists” pulled some numbers out of their arses to oblige them.

Sorry, y’all, but I’m waiting until Mosher says that a guy with a Ouija board in a closet in Cedar Rapids is better than actually counting until I make up my mind on this one.


Gary Pearse

I guess billionaire activist groups and their benefactors don’t want to fund a count. They’d rather badger the polar bear groups to give low ball esimates. As an engineer, how hard can it be – it is a big territory admittedly. There are no trees, though.
Let me help with some ideas: a) Low tech (I). wait until the ice is a few weeks from minimum to concentrate the population. Also, where snow and ice are gone from shores, you can see these guys without trouble, maybe even from a satellite, but certainly from an aircraft. Make it a 5 year project. Fly survey lines over the ice areas and along shore lines. Have a Hasselblad camera hanging out and photograph strips along the flight route. Look also for signs of seals and other prey. Basically most of these bears will be along the shore. One trip around Greenland (they aren’t likely hunting in the interior of this sub-continent) is about 30,000km because of its denticular shape. There should be more bears on the Davis Strait side than the open Atlantic and probably more in the southern half of the country. Divide each side into10 intervals and survey half of each. It would be a matter of only a few weeks to do the survey. Repeat it next year using the alternate intervals and compare. Similarly do the Canadian Arctic Islands. Finally do the mainline coasts of Canada, Alaska, Russia and Scandinavia. Probably residents of Svalbard etc. can give you their numbers. If it was done by several international teams each responsible for a region, you would have some decent data after the first year. The next 4 years, swap territories.
Low tech (II) buy a boat load of fish and drop these in red bags that can be spotted in more remote areas (one bag per 1000 sq km) where counts are non existent. Check back. For extra duty, drag a whale into the open in some of these area (and see high tech methods below)
High tech (I): Are these guys out at night? Use infrared cameras away from human populations. You might get images in a swath several miles wide.
High tech (II): rig cameras in remote areas, maybe with a bag of fish nearby.
Now I’m prepared to be shot down with these ideas by those who actually know the bears. But not by someone who has to find a bear, shoot it with a dart and hang a gps and serial number on it. For this price he could have simply found 50 bears for each he would have darted.


Yet another prime example of the systemic illness contracted by many scientists from global warming. Anthropogenicitis! ⚠

george e. smith

20 to 25,000 is one hell of a range; over three orders of magnitude.
By anybody’s standards, that qualifies as a truly wild arsed guess (WAG).
Yes I would say the group needs to come clean, pronto.


george e. smith says:
June 2, 2014 at 5:33 pm
“20 to 25,000 is one hell of a range; over three orders of magnitude.”
I read that and I assumed the range was between 20,000 and 25,000…maybe I am incorrect.


same could be said about CAGW models!
3 June: Bloomberg: Unstoppable $100 Trillion Bond Market Renders Models Useless
By Susanne Walker and Liz Capo McCormick
If the insatiable demand for bonds has upended the models you use to value them, you’re not alone.
Just last month, researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York retooled a gauge of relative yields on Treasuries, casting aside three decades of data that incorporated estimates for market rates from professional forecasters. Priya Misra, the head of U.S. rates strategy at Bank of America Corp., says a risk metric she’s relied on hasn’t worked since March.
After unprecedented stimulus by the Fed and other central banks made many traditional models useless, investors and analysts alike are having to reshape their understanding of cheap and expensive as the global market for bonds balloons to $100 trillion. With the world’s biggest economies struggling to grow and inflation nowhere in sight, catchphrases such as “new neutral” and “no normal” are gaining currency to describe a reality where bonds are rallying the most in a decade…
‘How Wrong’
“I don’t expect the consensus to be right, I’m just surprised by how wrong it has been,” Jim Bianco, president of Chicago-based Bianco Research LLC, said by telephone on May 28…


Polar bears just can’t stand the terrible heat in the Arctic. That’s why they are in many zoos in Europe.

The heat-stressed polar bears in Hudson Bay, Canada dig holes in the dirt, trying to stay cool by lying on the permafrost below.

Of course.

The Daily News – 26 November 1936
Black Swan Dies In Sudden Heat Wave, But Polar Bears Survive.
….Strangely enough it was a native of Western Australia that died as a result of the sud- den vagary of Western Austra-lian weather — an old black swan closed its peaceful life.
BBC – 24 Fevruary 2004
Polar bears turn green in Singapore
… “The harmless algae is the result of Singapore’s warm and humid climate,” spokesman Vincent Tan told the Associated Press news agency.
Jolly green giants
Two bears at the zoo have been afflicted by the algae so far – Sheba and her 13-year-old son, Inuka. …

Sheba was introduced into the zoo in 1988 and apparently lived beyond her expected captive lifespan. It’s worse than we thought! Send money now!

Pat Frank

So, for at least 13 years, with all the shouts about the threatened polar bear populations, the PBSG has seen fit to remain quiet about the fact that the actual polar bear population was and remains unknown.
In this, we are graced with yet one more example of responsible parties succumbing to intellectual cowardice rather than face the object character assassination levied by green activists and their NGOs. Despite a profound ethical duty, the scientists of the PBSG haven’t the courage of their convictions. One can only hope for the day when these integrity-betraying scientists know to hang their heads in shame.
Scientific knowledge is the impervious shield against subjective criticisms and accusations. Nevertheless, science itself seems replete with professionals who fail to understand their strength and fear to deploy it.


To get an accurate count I recommend that the scientists who made up the number fix the problem by putting a dot of red nail polish on the nose of each polar bear they count. Eh, you might have to go through a lot of researchers, but at least it solves the problem of double-counting.

Pamela Gray

When the news media wants a story that bleeds, climate scientists will provide one.


Quite frankly I hope every white bear in the world dies!


The word that comes to mind is “Fabrication.”
I.e. a deliberate and pre-metated act of Fraud.
Very bad old boys at IUCN !


What’s the big deal about polar bears? If hungry enough they will track down and kill people. I don’t want to be on anything’s diet. I am at the top of the food chain and I don’t want to share that position with anything. I believe that polar bears should be shot on sight. Great white sharks, too. These things are not cuddly animals. We grew up with these leftist, eco-green images. It’s a bunch of garbage. Mankind would be better off killing anything that considers us food. What would be the great ecological problem/loss if we wiped out species that made food of us?


Coca-cola anyone?