Ten dire polar bear predictions that have failed as global population hits 20-31k

Guest essay by Dr. Susan Crockford

Grim predictions of the imminent demise of polar bears – their “harsh prophetic reality” as it’s been called – have been touted since at least 2001. But such depressing prophesies have so widely missed the mark they can now be said to have failed.

Rode and Regehr 2010_Chukchi_report2010_triplets redone PNG


While polar bears may be negatively affected by declines in sea ice sometime in the future, so far there is no convincing evidence that any unnatural harm has come to them. Indeed, global population size (described by officials as a “tentative guess“) appears to have grown slightly over this time, as the maximum estimated number was 28,370 in 1993 (Wiig and colleagues 1995; range 21,470-28,370) but rose to 31,000 in 2015 (Wiig and colleagues 2015, [pdf here] aka 2015 IUCN Red List assessment; range 20,000-31,000).

These ominous prophesies have been promoted primarily by Ian Stirling, Steven Amstrup, Andrew Derocher and a few other IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) members but ironically, it’s data collected by their colleagues that’s refuted their message of doom.

Here are the predictions (in no particular order, references at the end):

Prediction 1. Western Hudson Bay (WHB) polar bear numbers will continue to decline beyond 2004 due to ever-earlier breakup and ever-later freeze-up of sea ice.

FAIL – An aerial survey conducted by Seth Stapleton and colleagues (2014) in 2011 produced an estimate of about 1030 bears and their report stated:

This figure is similar to a 2004 mark–recapture estimate but higher than projections indicating declining abundance since then.”

This 1030 figure is the one being used by the IUCN PBSG and Environment Canada for WHB, as a limited mark-recapture studyconducted the same year (Lunn and colleagues 2014) did not survey the entire WHB region and therefore not comparable to the 2004 count.

Prediction 2. Breakup of sea ice in Western Hudson Bay (WHB) will come progressively earlier and freeze-up dates progressively later (after 1999), as CO2 levels from burning fossil fuel increase global temperatures.

FAIL – Researchers Nick Lunn and colleagues (2014) determined thatthere has been no trend in breakup or freeze-up dates between 2001 and 2010. While no analyses of breakup or freeze-up dates for WHB since 2010 have been published, this pattern seems to havecontinued to at least 2015.

Prediction 3. Chukchi Sea polar bears will be the most harmed by summer sea ice declines because they experience some of the largest sea ice losses of any subpopulation (and thus, the longest open-water season each year).

FAILA recent study of Chukchi bears (2008-2011) found them in better condition than they were in the 1980s when summer open-water seasons were short – indeed, only Foxe Basin bears were fatter than Chukchi bears. They were also reproducing well (Rode et al. 2010, 2013, 2014), with some females raising litters of triplets (see lead photo), a rare sight outside Western Hudson Bay.

Prediction 4. Cannibalism will increase as summer sea ice extent declines worsen.

FAIL – Cannibalism is a natural phenomenon in polar bears and none of the few incidents reported recently have involved obviously thin or starving polar bears (even the most recent example, filmed in mid-August 2015 in Baffin Bay when sea ice levels in the region were high),despite the fact that 2012 recorded the lowest summer ice extent since 1979. Incidents of cannibalism cannot be said to be increasingbecause there is no scientific baseline to which recent occurrences can be compared.

Prediction 5. Drowning deaths of polar bears will increase as summer sea ice continues to decline (driven home by a high-profile incident in 2004).

FAIL – There have been no further confirmed reports of polar bear drowning deaths associated with extensive open water swimming since that contentious 2004 event, even though the two lowest extents of summer sea ice have occurred since then (2007 and 2012). A more rigorous study of swimming prowess found polar bears, including cubs, are capable of successfully making long-distance swims.  Indeed, challenging open-water swims don’t happen only in summer: in late March 2015, a polar bear swam through open water from the pack ice off Newfoundland to the Hibernia oil platform well offshore.

Prediction 6. There will be more and more problems onshore in summer with starving polar bears because of reduced sea ice.

FAIL – There have been more problem bears in summer over the last few years in Western Hudson Bay as well as other regions but few of those bears were shown to be thin or starving.  A well-publicized attack occurred in Churchill in the fall of 2013 but was not associated with an especially early break-up of sea ice nor a late freeze-up. Incidents last summer in the Kara Sea (Russia) involved bears in good condition. Polar bears are potentially dangerous no matter what their condition but death by starvation of young or old bears (or injured ones) are natural events that occur often, not evidence of declining sea ice.

Prediction 7. Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears can be used to predict how bears living in the Chukchi Sea and the Barents Sea are doing because they are similar ‘sea ice ecoregions’, says the Circumpolar Action Plan for future research proposed by Dag Vongraven and colleagues in 2012.

FAIL – Recent research has shown that Chukchi Sea bears actually fared better with the long open-water seasons of the late 2000s than in the short seasons of the 1980s. In contrast, Southern Beaufort Sea bears have suffered profoundly from periodic episodes of thick spring ice (every 10 years or so since the 1960s), a phenomenon that is unique to that region. In fact, sea ice conditions for Chukchi Sea and Southern Beaufort bears could hardly be more different. With Southern Beaufort bears the more vulnerable to decline from natural variations in sea ice, the plan to treat these two regions as equivalent is a farce and totally undermines the Circumpolar Action Plan proposed by the IUCN PBSG.

Prediction 8. Western Hudson Bay (WHB) polar bears can be used to predict how bears living in Foxe Basin, and Davis Strait are doing because these are all similar ‘sea ice ecoregions’, says the Circumpolar Action Plan for future research proposed by Dag Vongraven and colleagues in 2012.

FAIL – WHB bears not only have variable breakup and freeze-up dates to contend with but also face occasional years with thick spring ice and springs with either very thick or very thin snow cover that strongly affects the availability of their ringed seal prey. Davis Strait bears, on the other hand, face some variability in sea ice conditions but have access to a super-abundant supply of harp seal prey in spring. With WHB polar bears by far the more vulnerable to decline from natural variations in sea ice and prey availability than Davis Strait bears, the plan to treat these two regions as equivalent is a farce and totally undermines the proposed Circumpolar Action Plan.

Prediction 9. Continued late formation of fall sea ice off Svalbard in the Barents Sea will devastate polar bears that traditionally den in this region.

FAILPreliminary results from the latest population count of Svalbard area polar bears showed a 42% increase over the estimate for 2004,  despite very late ice formation in the fall of 2013 around maternity denning areas. Other research has shown that bears move back and forth readily between Svalbard, Norway and Franz Josef Land, Russia (which so far has always had sea ice by late fall). This means that Svalbard bears have been able to adapt easily to recent low ice conditions.

Prediction 10. Summer sea ice will decline as CO2 rises; 2007 marked the beginning of a sea ice ‘death spiral’ that is expected to continue as CO2 levels rise.

FAIL – Sea ice at September has been variable since 2007 but there has been no declining trend, a pattern sea ice experts admit may continue for 10 years or more beyond 2014 even if declining sea ice predictions are true (Swart and colleagues, 2015). In other words, CO2 levels have not been the control knob for polar bear health.


Polar bears are not fragile canaries in an Arctic climate-change coal mine but resilient and adaptable predators remarkably suited to their highly variable habitat.

Here’s a summary of what the 2015 Red List assessment (Wiig et al. 2015) said:

The previous status of ‘Vulnerable’ was upheld but no projections were made beyond 2050. They said there is only a 70% chancethat numbers will decline by 30% over the next 35 years, which is only slightly higher than a 50:50. It also means there is a 30% chance that the numbers WILL NOT decline by 30% over the next 35 years.It stated explicitly that the risk of a population decline of 80% or greater by 2050 is virtually zero (pg. 16).

In other words, the status of ‘Vulnerable’ is based only on apossible decline in population numbers, despite their current high numbers, and there is no imminent risk of extinction. The current population trend is stated as UNKNOWN.


Read her entire essay here

113 thoughts on “Ten dire polar bear predictions that have failed as global population hits 20-31k

  1. Does not matter, except to taxpayers, our kleptocrats will continue to push the narrative even when we know they lie.
    The “massive decline” of the caribou is a similar story.
    The 250 000 “vanished in 2009, were found by the same “expert” in 2011 but the Government of the Northwest Territories Canada is still charging ahead with their panicked responses of 2010.
    Almost no canadian media ever ran the story,22 Nov 20111 of the oops, we found them.
    Nor of the utter failure of both Territorial Governments(NWT & Nunavut) to complete a count of the herds since 2009.
    The lie continues, just as the same activists continue to hold their jobs as GNWT experts on polar bears.

    • Repost came to mind:
      Hurrreeeyy. . . hurrreeeyy. . . hurrreeeyy! Step right up to the climate midway folks! See millions, billions, trillions traded for pigs, pokes, and lies . . . starving polar bears straight from the sands of a sinking arctic . . . snarling snow leopards in search of water . . . gasping Gurkhas swept away by melting glaciers . . . coastal residents on stilts . . . climate grifters juggling semi-intelligent humans . . . grim reapers galloping the streets . . . massive throngs wandering aimlessly . . . You there in the back! Why are you wearing that parka?! Hurrreeeeyy . . . hurrreeeyy folks! . . . see the Guinness record for limos and Lear jets parked in one spot . . . hear tragic tales of total destruction from Nobel laureates . . . You there on the right! Can you spare us a billion? That’s it! Step right up and empty your pockets on stage . . . brothers Barack and David will assist you . . . hurrrreeeyy. . . hurrrreeeeyy. . . hurrrreeeyy . . .

      • Yes indeed, good farmers, Christians and friends … watch succubus politicos and scientífico prestidigitators slither, slobber, spit and scream while juggling hockey sticks with no hands right before your very eyes … hurrrreeeyy … hurrrreeey … they walk, they talk, they crawl on their bellies like reptiles … hurrrreeeyy … hurrrreeeyy …

      • As TV writers have said for generations: “Where’s the Jep?” (If the Planet is in no jeopardy, there’s no urgency to keeping those ol’ checks coming, now, is there?) So if there IS no “jep,” we have to create some. Yawn . . .

    • Good reply John. In response to the statement about taxpayers, those of us in the Province of Ontario just got hit AGAIN. This time it was by Kathleen Wynne, Liberal (that means left wing) premier of the province and her minions. We’ll pay more at the pump, as do Quebecers already, based on an UNPROVEN declaration. I have asked several AGW believers to provide 1 piece of evidence, just 1, that shows that humans are unquestionably responsible for the alleged warming of the planet. So far the scorecard is marked with a big ZERO!

  2. There is also a 90 percent chance that WWF will make millions off the dire predictions or chance predictions thereof.

  3. Susan, thank you for the nice update on the reality of the polar bears status.
    I especially like the pic on Anthony’s tweet !!!

  4. Love the 1st picture! I always assumed the answer was “Yes!” when asked, “Does a bear take a dump in the woods?”
    The true answer is,”Not necessarily.”
    Now I’ll have to ponder the ol’ rhetorical question, “Is the Pope Catholic?”
    P.S. To Dr. Crockford: I really appreciate you taking the time to enlighten this corner of the internet with your guest posts on Polar Bears. I’ve learned much. Thank you.

  5. One of my favorite Gary Larsen cartoons is one polar bear that has wrapped himself around an igloo saying to his partner “I just love these things; crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle”

  6. If you collected some of thes “save the polar bear” items, like Coke cans, I suggest that, because of the irony, they may be worth a lot some day.

    • Polar bears do not eat coke cans, and besides coke cans, are made of aluminium, not iron, so there is nothing irony about them.

  7. There are still 235 thousand times more people on the planet, than polar bears. However, as the right to arm bears shall not be infringed, these proportions are to be swiftly reversed.

  8. Climate caterwaulers only used polar bears as an Appeal to Emotion, to help sell their product; fear-laced guilt. The facts never mattered one iota to them.

  9. I remember hunting moose in northern Manitoba and polar bears were invading towns up there. Natural Resources would tranquilize them and haul them back into the bush.

  10. If bear numbers increase then seal numbers will decrease. This shows that global warming kills seals!
    A bit like ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ so- bears don’t kill seals, global warming kills seals!
    We’ll have to start using the guns on the bears to save the seals. Cute polar bear cubs or cute seal pups, which to kill? A hard choice..Although at least bears make nice rugs.

  11. next study proposal: does all that polar bear poo change the ice albedo in that way that it will melt faster? oh and for the grands their CO2 exhalating breath is heating up the arctic

  12. “Ten dire polar bear predictions that have failed …”
    I wonder, are there any dire polar predictions that have not failed?

  13. Good work Susan. In 2007 the Center for Biological Diversity who petitioned for Endangered status and polar bear “expert” Amstrup were part of a National Geographic interview predicting that “Two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could disappear by 2050”
    Now that there is “only a 70% chancethat numbers will decline by 30% over the next 35 years,” reveals how the evidence slowly chips away at their fear mongering!

  14. Where does one find the current sat snow cover images? I don’t see any on the “National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC)” image.

    • A bit worrisome. Broke her mooring lines, and ruptured her hull on the rocks. Fortunately, so,far only in a water tight compartment that could be water ballast flooded, so not (yet) threatening. Unless they don’t get her off the rocks soon.

      • May get a mite drafty when the generator quits. Oh, wait, they could always deploy a windmill. . . /sarc

      • Dire Antarctic circumstance… the situation could quickly get out of hand and put many lives at risk, even beyond those souls on board. Rescues in and around Antarctica are never assured, even with modern gadgetry.

  15. What is the carrying capacity of polar bears in the arctic and are we approaching that number? Or does anyone really know.

  16. Thanks Susan!
    After 2 decades of remarkable tech advances, their range of uncertainty doubled? It is clear they have no earthly clue regarding 2050 polar bear populations, vulnerability or anything else. Had to make sure the low stayed under 21…
    The PBSG seems to be simply another CAGW sledgehammer to keep the message emotionally fresh and the troughs full… Love to see how much food, health and education resources these bums have stolen from hard-working families.

  17. Polar bear alarmism is a microcosm of global warming alarmism.
    Debunking it should be followed up by text (in our side’s educational efforts) pointing this out. The same psychological types are involved in the alarmism, and the same sort of scientific and governmental organizations.

  18. Polar bears are potentially dangerous no matter what their condition …

    We were told the ones to really avoid were yellow. They had just been denning and were really hungry and grouchy to boot.

    The Inuit of Canada do not support the proposal to transfer Polar Bear from Appendix II to Appendix I on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species because the species does not meet the criteria for an Appendix I listing. link (Inuit == Eskimo)

    There are way more Eskimos than there are government scientists and, therefore, they spend a lot more man-hours on the land. The other thing is that the average Eskimo is a far better observer than the average southern scientist. Scientists who disagree with Eskimos should engage in some sober second thought.
    Eskimo joke:

    What is the size of the average Eskimo family?
    1 Mother, 1 Father, 2.37 Children, 1 Anthropologist

    I had a working relationship with Ian Stirling and had great respect for him and his technicians. It’s saddening that he seems to have drunk the kool-aid.

  19. Don’t worry – professors who need to fund their own positions with grant money will find some weakly-justified and “proprietary” statistical method to raise past estimates of polar bear populations so that current estimates represent a “decrease.” You can mark my words right here. This WILL happen!

  20. All Ursine subspecies appear to be having a population explosion. As I’ve written a number of times previously not only might this be influenced by declining hunting pressure, but also, Homo Sapiens have inadvertently given them a whole new previously non existent niche – namely, consumption of human rubbish. Rubbish addicted Ursines are a dire issue. It’s not going to end well for either the Humans or the Ursines on that score. Much blood will be shed by both.

  21. Polar bears can interbreed with grizzly=brown bears. Pretty much like us and Neanderthals back when. Species are more mutable than we think. The genome abides. Likely Polar Bears have adapted to the Pleistocene as we have. They would not be here, as we would not, were they unable to take a glacial/interglacial transition.

  22. I’m old enough to remember when environmentalists actually cared about the environment, e.g. clean air and water, the land and wildlife. Long live polar bears!

    • Clearly, they got lost when they missed the left turn in Albuquerque. Which is okay: we’ve plety of PBJ to tide us over. (Polar Bear Jokes, aha!)

  23. But in the meantime a generation of schoolkids has been taught to believe that a few remaining cuddly polar bear cubs and their mothers are desperately clinging to the last few chunks of ice in the Arctic.

  24. Dr. Crockford is always a pure scientific voice of clarity and sanity in this devious world we live in.

  25. The thing that surprises me the most is that they are making claims when they really have no idea of how many polar bears there are. Somewhere between 20K & 31K? Wow!

      • Dr. C,
        Are polar bears good to eat? I mean besides the Vitamin A in their livers thing. I have never shot and eaten one, but would like to. Do they taste like seal? I prefer dog meat to grizzly and brown bear, but they’re not bad, as omnivorous members of the Carnivora go.

      • Just one comment,why was that guy doing yard work in March, when everything else was snow and ice. I think you need a better editor………but really, enjoyed it……. fun

      • Brent – there’s yard work to do in March just perhaps not essential work! I’ll agree it wasn’t phrased as well as it could have been but think of the possibilities: a desire to check for winter root damage by voles, for example (a serious issue in Newfoundland), or splitting of bush trunks by snow loads. Do some of those shrubs need to be tied until spring finally comes?
        At any rate, immaterial to the story, which is the good part.

  26. I suspect if polar bears can’t find ice they’ll adapt as all animals do, and hunt on land. One thing’s pretty certain, they won’t stop eating.

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