Study: Beaufort sea polar bears largely recovered from a 2004-2006 decline

A bit more good news about polar bear populations, this time from an abundance study in the Southern Beaufort Sea.

Image from - comedy added by WUWT

Image from – comedy added by WUWT

Dr. Susan Crockford writes:

A bit more good news about polar bear populations, this time from an abundance study in the Southern Beaufort Sea. A paper released yesterday showed a 25-50% decline in population size took place between 2004 and 2006 (larger than previously calculated). However, by 2010 the population had rebounded substantially (although not to previous levels).

All the media headlines (e.g. The Guardian) have followed the press release lead and focused on the extent of the decline. However, it’s the recovery portion of the study that’s the real news, as it’s based on new data. Such a recovery is similar to one documented in the late 1970s after a significant decline occurred in 1974-1976 that was caused by thick spring ice conditions.

The title of the new paper by Jeffery Bromaghin and a string of polar bear biologists and modeling specialists (including all the big guns: Stirling, Derocher, Regehr, and Amstrup) is “Polar bear population dynamics in the southern Beaufort Sea during a period of sea ice decline.” However, the study did not find any correlation of population decline with ice conditions. They did not find any correlation with ice conditions because they did not include spring ice thickness in their models – they only considered summer ice conditions.

I find this very odd, since previous instances of this phenomenon, which have occurred every 10 years or so since the 1960s, have all been associated with thick spring ice conditions (the 1974-76 and 2004-2006 events were the worst). [Another incident may have occurred this spring (April 2014) but has not been confirmed].

Whoever wrote the press release for this paper tried hard to suggest the cause of the 2004-2006 event might have been “thin” winter ice caused by global warming that was later deformed into thick spring ice, an absurd excuse that has been tried before (discussed here). If so, what caused the 1974-1976 event?

It seems rather unscientific as well as implausible to even try to blame this recent phenomenon on global warming. However, neither the authors of the paper or the press release writers seemed to want to admit that 2-3 years of thick ice development in the Southern Beaufort could have been the cause of the population decline in 2004 (as for all of the previous events). No, that wouldn’t do, not in the age of global warming.

So, we are left with this equally absurd conclusion from the author:

“The low survival may have been caused by a combination of factors that could be difficult to unravel,” said Bromaghin, “and why survival improved at the end of the study is unknown.”

I’ve summarized (at the link below) the paper to the best of my understanding (there was a lot of model-speak to wade through), leaving out the prophesies of extinction, which in my opinion don’t add anything.


74 thoughts on “Study: Beaufort sea polar bears largely recovered from a 2004-2006 decline

  1. Hmmm. So the decline occurred *before* the most significant decreases in ice, and has rebounded since the *start* of those most significant decreases.

    Doesn’t quite match up to what we’ve been shrieked at, errr, told….

  2. More ice this year could lead to a drop in bear numbers so the grant money should keep rolling in. Happy days!

  3. So is the proposed idea that polar bears can’t get through thick spring ice in order to hunt, but the ice is thinner in the Summer (because – summer) and the effect is less extreme then?

    That would raise the question as to why anyone would look at summer ice thickness instead of Spring.
    Can someone explain the reasoning behind that choice?

    • Easy – money and promoting the global warming religion. If it can link to the ‘melting ice cap’ then it promotes the myth and keeps the money flowing for more pointless research. That the facts got in the way meant the report summary had to be vague nonsense as it couldn’t admit the truth and no end result means more funds are needed for more research to find the correct answer second time round.

    • Easy – it’s bloomin’ cold in the arctic in spring, so nobody wants to go and measure the ice until it’s warmed up a bit.

      • Right, so the change in sea-ice has occurred at the Summer and not the Spring (so much). So they are looking where the impact would be greatest, if lack of sea-ice was the problem.

        But if too thick an iceblock is the problem then they are looking at entirely the wrong thing anyway.

        But at least that makes some sense. They are stating from the trend in summer ice and not from the behaviour of the polar bears.
        Makes sense. Watching wild polar bears is a health and safety nightmare.

      • All these screams about reduced September minimum extent is just raising a red herring. Or is that cod?

        Polar Bear Science – May 25, 2013
        Spring is the busiest and most important season for polar bears: it is the most important feeding period and it is also when mating occurs. The fat that polar bears put on during the spring and early summer is critical for their survival over the rest of the year and for females, determines whether they can successfully produce cubs the following year.

  4. You will not believe this, but in Australian tonight (1027 hours GMT to be precise), the Brisbane Courier Mail newspaper posted a “Breaking News” headline which said:-
    “Study: Polar Bears are Disappearing”.

    Unfortunately about 2 million Queenslanders will read that tomorrow and believe it.
    Only about 50 Queenslanders will read this post on WUWT.

    We still have a long, long way to go in the propaganda battle.

    • They were pretty rare in Oz to start with. I don’t remember seeing a single Polar Bear during any of my visits. Presumably they find it hard to compete for territory with the Koala

    • From what I’ve found, several Australian zoos used to keep polar bears. Now it looks like the only place in Australia that has even one is Sea World Gold Coast.

      So the article from the Courier Mail is true… they really are disappearing.

    • Peter, the story came from AP. Rupert needs his son to instruct the Management to change suppliers.
      Why buy rotten eggs from the supplier? AP – a magnificent USA bastion – I don’t think so.
      Rupert is the same guy that took on Australia’s most militant union in the 1950’s – and won (the WIU of A).
      He is also the same guy that as a young editor of the Adelaide News supported a young aboriginal girl who had been charged with murder – and saved her life.
      But I guess these things are small fry in your scheme of things – you jerk.

  5. Nice to see that the recovery started when the ice started to significantly reduce. So much for the “less sea ice is a threat for polar bears” meme.

  6. Based on how cold it is today, my guess is that the Polar Bear population will take a hit this coming spring.

  7. Local paper ran Seth Borenson’s AP story on this. No mention of recovery. The paper’s local reporters are excellent. It is when it has to rely on the AP that it sucks.

  8. Excellent work Dr. Susan Crockford! I went to your site immediately when I read the about the new paper with the misleading spin and although there was nothing I didn’t have to wait long for your analysis as you were probably hard at work on it at that time!
    Keep it up … ur blog is now the definitive go to site for polar bear info and links to other sites with good info.

    • Thanks Stewart, I appreciate that!

      And yes, I was furiously busy. It takes time to delve into these papers for the real info, which is why the media depend on press releases. Sad, really. Only one journalist contacted me for my take.

      To be fair, however, the amount of model-speak in this paper was mind-boggling.


      • Susan,
        It is interesting that a current WWF advertisment on British TV states quite openly that PBs are vanishing due to vanishing ice, it’s all our fault and WWF must be given money to help reverse the trend.
        I thought about complaining to the TV advertising complaints people but I doubt they would listen.

    • I agree, Stewart – Dr Cockford is an inspiration for her work over many years on the Polar Bear issue. Personally, I’m grateful for the fact that scientists like her are willing to stand up and make the case for actual science reporting, not the science-fiction variety we see in so much of the msm. Keep it up, Dr Crockford – from a UK fan!

  9. We can hope that Pres. Obama comes out and puts his “reputation” on the line in support of this lie also.

    He can be used for things he might not understand as he takes longer and longer steps into the dark cave of lies and fraud. Clear it is he nor his cult following know the path to escape from this cave where he and his cult now find themselves.

  10. It must be immensely aggravating for scientists like Dr. Susan Crockford to read the “Global Warming” drivel about Ringed Seal populations in the pages of Wikipedia. The stark contrast between known and understood scientific reality and the fairy tale Wiki entry would be shocking, were it not so commonplace.

    • Well, go and fix the Wikipedia. It requires just a reliable source, not that you’d be right.

      If Wikipedia is hostile to all kinds of CAGW scepticism, it might be because sceptics are not willing to play by the Wikipedia community rules.

      • “If… it might be…” Such polite fictions…

        If you are a betting man, Hugh, perhaps you’d entertain a wager on the percentage of skeptic contributions to the climate pages of Wikipedia which have been and continue to be edited out of existence, regardless of the peerage of the skeptical source, or observance of rules? Want to bet on the number of skeptical Wiki editors who have been banned from making Wiki contributions? Do you think that Wikipedia has really changed, since the heyday of William Connolley, (or if his hand is still active via proxy?)

      • Well I know what you mean but trust me, the problem is that sceptics don’t bother to fix errors, they try to do something else, something which leads to breaking rules and getting banned. We’re minority, so we need to obey the rules better than the majority there.

        Personally I don’t even try, but just add a ‘source?’ to stuff that is dubious and unsourced. After challenging, the unsourced stuff can be deleted. But you must play by the book and know the bizarre street rules.

      • Why is their a need for following their rules? If they edit out things they disagree with, they obviously are not a site worth checking unless you are part of the choir

      • Latecommer,

        I don’t have skin in this game, but I did do a quick check to compare since DB is so against the wiki and DB has a track record of being contrary to me just because he doesn’t care for me personally. Like Willis says, it’s not about me. It’s about the science. Well, that thought process led me to evaluate the two sources side by side.

        Quick items of note:
        Wiki on Oregon petition states over 9000 PHD’s. states 9029 PHD’s.
        Wiki states 39 climatologists, PetitionProject states 39 climatologists.
        DB states Tens of thousand of signatories. PP states over 31,000

        Discrediting wiki just because it’s wiki? When the wiki matches DB’s source quite well? I don’t get it except that with DB it’s personal, only personal, and only against me.

        The wiki states there were problems with some of the signers, but out of 31,000 so what if what, say 1000 were discredited? That’d still be 30,000, right? So either a substantial number of the 31,000 stands, or more are discredited. So what, exactly, is DB so scared of?

        There are already 54 that match wiki’s “requirements” why don’t we go for more? We could do a test, and someone with more credibility than I could write it up? Or, we could get names added to the 54. Is this in any way unscientific? The only negative I could see is that DB is proven wrong and then he’d have to deal with that. That is a risk. I don’t care either way (but it would be fun for DB to be proven wrong since he insists on calling me out personally) but if he’s right it’s just more ammo against wiki, correct? And I look bad. That’s a win for DB, right?

        Did you do a comparison?

        DB doesn’t like my other wiki source that lists Dr. Curry accurately, and Dr. Happer (that WUWT just did an article on) accurately. These two meet the wiki criteria and both have been “guests” on WUWT.

        I fully agree that wiki is not a credible source for a scientific endeavor. But having said that, it’s not far off on these two specific pages. So for generalized use on a blog, why not? Check them out and get back to me with your thoughts. Keep in mind, it’s not about me.

        Look them over for yourself. Compare the site with the wiki and let me know what you think.

  11. Abstract:

    ‘However, in the short term, our findings suggest that factors other than sea ice can influence survival. ‘

    This certainly can NOT be true :-D

  12. Since Polar bears are warm blooded creatures, it follows that they live all the way up there because they found a niche in the environment where they could thrive on the large seal populations but only as long as they could stand the bitter cold and ice. Turns out, Polar bears are more susceptible to more ice and harsher winters than they are to less ice, warmer waters and more mild conditions. Warm blooded creatures can live almost anywhere on the planey as long as it doesn’t get too cold or too ice bound. Common sense really.

  13. It would also be germaine to mention that the declines observed may represent the bears simply going elsewhere in response to conditions and thus being overlooked during the population survey. The population then “rebounded” when they came back to the survey area.

  14. Betting this article is not good news to the lawyer dude from the Sierra club that found out he’s actually part of the food chain, not above it!

    Seriously though, these are warm blooded animals, and even though they have evolved to survive their environment, it is not correct to assume they benefit from severe cold spells and ice formation in their ecological niche. Having watched some play and sun themselves during summer at a zoo located in the middle latitudes, those individuals seem to have adapted well enough to “non-polar” climate.
    If and when the polar regions no longer have ice and they have migrated to land areas, they will most logically be faced with one major problem, the lack of effective camouflage. Even so, one would guess that the northward expansion of flora and the herds that graze on it would provide enough prey, given the swiftness and scenting abilities of the species. (just a common man’s observation, please correct me if I’m in error)

  15. “The low survival may have been caused by a combination of factors that could be difficult to unravel,” said Bromaghin, “and why survival improved at the end of the study is unknown.”

    It is an absurd conclusion since it concedes, “We have no idea…” A conclusion of “We have no idea.” is not worth publishing. But it is published due to its implications; low survival while not sure is likely Global Warming, however high survival is completely unknown, that is high survival could never be caused by Global Warming. Imagine the horror, if Polar bear populations increased as the Arctic warmed.

    In the AGW religion, saying a warming earth could have benefits is more blasphemous than claiming God could make mistakes.

    The media meanwhile cannot tell the difference between religion, science, opinion, fact, or their elbow.

    • I disagree. A conclusion if “We have no idea” tells people that this method doesn’t work.

      That’s useful to know for the next researcher – negative findings are worthy of being published.

    • I find it logical (but possibly too simple) that warming allows increased caloric intake (more available food), coupled with decreased caloric output to required maintain body temp., so for them life would easier in general. Also spending less time hunting means more time to breed, as is evidenced in welfare societies of humans.

  16. I was always taught that polar bears hunted on the ice in the spring, a time where the ice remains realatively constant year to year and the only time ice cover affects them one way or another.

  17. I’m thinking about mailing a 6th grade science book to the authors. I’m tired of these biology studies that look at variability in annual animal populations and with the authors that are seemingly mystified that the populations go up and down.

  18. I forwarded a link to Dr. Crockford’s page to a news producer I know. If you know anyone in the news business, do the same. This type of thing is what puts the seed of doubt into peoples minds. They need to see that they are being conned.

    • I did the same thing for a while but gave up – you need to convince the editor before any MSM will change course on AGW.

  19. See the misinformation the lead author (Bromaghin) spreads in his remarks over at the Anchorage newspaper here:

    Said Bromaghin:

    “Though the study focuses on identifying survival rates and population numbers rather than the reasons behind those statistics, cause of the decline seems apparent — reduced sea ice, he said.

    “The ice is much different than it used to be,” he said.

    Open water exists in areas that used to be ice-covered in spring, and the ice that exists at that time of year is thinner, he said. That means polar bears have less access to their food, he said. In some cases, the thinner ice is pushed together, creating wind-blown piles that make life difficult for polar bears, Bromaghin said.”

    Yeah, well, they actually have no evidence for that explanation. It’s a hypothesis they made up to fit the 2004-2006 incident and a “warming climate” meme.

    The problem is, the decline in 1974-1976 was, by all accounts, just as bad as the 2004-2006 decline (which they all know), but occurred well before there was any decline in sea ice.

    Here is what Stirling and Lunn (1997:177) had to say about the mortality event of 1974 in the Eastern Beaufort that they witnessed (which I cited recently in my Featured Quote #29)

    “…in the spring of 1974, when ringed seal pups first became scarce, we capture two very thin lone adult female polar bears that had nursed recently, from which we deduced they had already lost their litters. A third emaciated female was accompanied by two cubs which were so thin that one could barely walk. We have not seen females with cubs in this condition in the Beaufort Sea, or elsewhere in the Arctic, before or since.”

    And this is what Stirling had to say at the 1979 Polar Bear Specialist Group meeting (Anonymous 1979:52) about his research activities in the eastern Beaufort Sea in the mid-70s:

    “…it was apparent from the studies of both polar bears and seals that their populations had undergone marked declines in numbers, productivity, and survival of young in 1974 and 1975. The decline apparently occurred because of natural causes that are not completely understood.”

    As I said, the “thin spring ice” excuse is a red herring. They know there is a circa 10 year cycle of thick spring ice – THAT is what they can’t explain.


  20. Dr. Crockford, any thoughts on bear movement between areas. It seems to be downplayed in the study and considering the biases in the study not sure if movement can be downplayed.

    • nc,
      They said that they accounted for movements between areas in their models but then said that there might have been some but they didn’t think it was significant.

      I’m not savvy enough about the model stuff to sort out if what they did actually accounted for this phenomenon or not. I’ll have to leave that for someone else. Their “probably not significant” comment after the fact suggests it might not have been.


  21. What has always been mind boggling is the arrogance of smart humans that think they can define exactly what the perfect level of global temperatures should be, along with the ideal level of CO2 for life on this planet.

    Those levels of course, were the ones that existed when the Industrial Revolution began.

    Life on this planet(outside of humans) says otherwise. CO2 has increased from 280 ppm to 400 ppm(yes, rather quickly) and the result has been a booming biosphere, increased vegetative health and more food from the huge increase in plant growth.

    Animals? Last time I checked, many of them ate plants or something else that ate plants. Most of them also do better in warmth vs cold.

    Polar bears are very unique in their environment and diet vs most other animals. I assume that this is one reason they were used as the poster animal to represent the harm from global warming. This makes it easy to create a picture in peoples minds of Arctic ice melting and their habitat destroyed by greenhouse gas warming.

    I’m not an expert on polar bears, just a lowly meteorologist. I can say with absolute certainty and can verify that alarmists have repeatedly and blatantly distorted, even lied about extreme weather and human caused climate change in my area of expertise. They have also covered up all the great benefits from photosynthesis, something I know a bit about, forecasting crop yields for a living. I also estimate energy use based on residential heating and cooling.

    Why in the heck would I believe anything about anything from this same side when it comes to realms in which I am not an expert?

    • But polar bears are perceived as “cute and innocent” by much of society. Al and Michael used that to wedge into public emotion and excite the “Bambi reflex”.
      (For whatever reason, it’s always been more effective to put lions and tigers with bears to make them scary…Oh My!)

  22. Models, estimates and statistical hand-waving correlated with other models, estimates and statistical hand-waving. This theater of the absurd is typical of what passes for man-made global warming “studies”. Ma and Pa Kettle are shivering in their woolies as of mid-November this year while shaking their heads in disbelief as “climate scientists” explain to them that “warming causes cooling” and man has driven the “Arctic vortex” insane with toxic plant food.

  23. “It seems rather unscientific as well as implausible to even try to blame this recent phenomenon on global warming”
    That has never stopped them before while it is only a question of time before we find out that ‘rain of fish’ is another sign of AGW Although to be fair climate ‘science’ has to be the most ‘unscientific’ science ever seen in the actual history of science, so bad has this approch is its just ‘normal practice ‘ for them.

  24. “However, by 2010 the population had rebounded substantially”

    Here is a Nat Geo article on a bear that swam 426mi in one 9 day swim in the Beaufort – 687km, that’s almost 80km a day. You don’t suppose that the drastic decline and remarkable rebound since 2006 was like the large Emperor penguin flock that disappeared to the dismay of Antarctic environmentalists, only to be found a few years later in full abundance – they just moved!

    “However other studies had shown populations could suddenly double, and such observations challenged the notion of philopatry.10 The only reasonable explanation for unusual rapid population growth was that other penguins had immigrated from elsewhere, and loyalty to a breeding location was a misleading belief.”

  25. M. Courtney,

    Re: Wikipedia.

    I’ll try it.
    Dr.Curry and Dr. Happer are already on this wiki. If I can get reliable sources that fit the criteria that wiki says is acceptable, I’ll try to get ’em plugged in and will report back.

    From the wiki below: “Each scientist listed here is notable enough to have his or her own Wikipedia article and has published at least one peer-reviewed article in the broad field of natural sciences, although not necessarily in a field relevant to climatology.”

    Here’s the wiki to which I’m referring. It’s got 54 for on it so far.

    Suggestions? Dr. Brown (Duke?) (Didn’t find an existing wiki article yet). Others?

  26. M Courtney,

    I see you’ve attracted a troll. I tried to explain to him that Wikipedia is a bogus authority. It is censored by William Connolley, such a reprehensible character that he has been banned from this site. One of only a few, I might add.

    Wikipedia pretends that there are just a few scientists who question man-made global warming. Nonsense. There are tens of thousands of scientists, listed individually by name, who have co-signed a statement that CO2 is harmless, and beneficial to the biosphere.

    Any reputable site would have included them. But Wikipedia pretends they don’t exist. And since this troll has been told that before, and still plays his game, all we can do is to set the record straight. Unlike Wikipedia, this site doesn’t censor, so readers need to see both sides in order to make a rational decision.

    Some folks argue that global warming has never stopped. That’s their tactic. Some folks argue that global warming is accelerating; that’s another tactic. Some folks pretend that extreme weather events are rising. That is their particular tactic. Some folks argue that we must bow down and worship the UN/IPCC, because they know all; still another tactic. And some folks argue incessantly that their minds are not made up, so they have to continually question skeptics — just another tactic.

    The last tactic is probably the most insidious, because they are the chameleons. They pretend that they are just ‘learning’, even though they could read the archives and get up to speed quickly, if they wanted to. Instead, they constantly attempt to muddy the waters. Despicable.

    Those of us who are familiar with human nature can see which subset each one falls into. They think they’re fooling us, and maybe they are fooling a few naive readers. That’s why the rest of us need to point out that the alarmist cult has exactly zero empirical evidence to support their CAGW belief system.

    Most readers, and the public, is coming around despite the constant attempts at obfuscation. We see it in media comments: a few years ago, people were concerned about global warming. Now, the overwhelming majority ridicules the scam. But there are always a few of those propagandists left, using whatever devious tactic fits in with their particular nature. As long as they are around, I and others will be here to set the record straight.

    • So all are clear on my reasoning.

      I wish to test how wiki responds when another (there are 54 so far) skeptic is submitted instead of taking DB’s word for it as I do not know DB. This seems to me to be a reasonable approach. If anyone other than DB disagrees with this approach as not being scientific I’d appreciate comments as to why.

      M. Courtney suggested that folks “try it”, and I’m willing to try and report back how wiki responds. I don’t know of another that has a wiki article and is peer reviewed so I’m asking for a source. Is that in any way unreasonable? I figured that a “real world” test would be appropriate as opposed to a less than “real world” attempt.

      If I’m not the correct person to do this, then may I suggest that someone, maybe DB make the attempt? Maybe Willis will try. He’s not going to kowtow to anybody from what I’ve read and maybe he’d be perceived as a more credible person to do so. Just tossing out an idea? Thoughts?

      Please, anybody but DB who obviously does not care for me, want to take this on? I’ll happily defer.

  27. I have always been under the impression that the Southern Beaufort Sea sub population was rather transitory.

  28. Polar bear numbers in parts of Alaska and Canada have declined by almost half, as thinning sea ice makes it increasingly difficult for them to hunt down seals, which are a key part of their diet.

    Scientists, led by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey, found polar bear numbers in the southern Beaufort Sea dropped about 40 percent, to 900, from 2000 to 2010. Survival rates were especially dire from 2004 to 2006 and they began to recover in 2007 and stabilized two years later. Why survival improved at the end of the study is unknown.

    This was released 9 hours ago by CBS

  29. Seems that all Ursine sub-species are in a population boom throughout North America. I need more Weatherby cartridges in my cache.

  30. Bromaghin’s oxymoronic comment simultaneously citing ‘low survival’ and ‘survival improved’ merely betrays his incredulity that the preconcieved conclusion he was hoping to validate was NOT validated by his study.
    He is in denial regarding the death of his minor deity. One more example of how ‘political science’ is not really science.

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