2019 Alaska aerial survey found the most polar bears since 2012 – dozens of fat healthy bears

Reposted from Polar Bear Science

Posted on January 12, 2020 |

This aerial shot of six fat polar bears lolling around on a sand beach on the coast of the Southern Beaufort Sea, Alaska, was taken by NOAA employees in July 2019. It exemplifies the reality that bears in this subpopulation are currently abundant and healthy, negating the suggestion that numbers have continued to drop since 2006 because bears are starving.

Six fat polar bear wallow in SB sand_NOAA summer 2019

The above picture of polar bear health is not an exception but the rule for all 31 bears recorded onshore last July, as the photos below from other locations testify. Those who would blame this abundance of bears on lack of sea ice in 2019 should note that ice retreated as early and as extensively in 2017 yet only 3 bears were spotted onshore. Results of a recent (2017-2018) population survey, which have not yet been made public, will of course not reflect conditions seen in 2019.

Beaufort Chukchi Sea polar-bear distribution from Cronin et al 2006

Alaska’s polar bear range: Southern Beaufort Sea (which ends at Barrow) to the Canadian border, overlaps with bears from the Chukchi Sea in the west, showing location of Prudhoe Bay. From Cronin et al. 2006.

According to an official NOAA blog report by Vicki Beaver, independent aerial marine mammal observer to NOAA’s ASAMM team [my bold] – see pdf here:

“July 2019 tallied more polar bear sightings than any previous July since ASAMM Beaufort Sea summer surveys began back in 2012. Previously, seven bears was ASAMM’s record for the most bears seen in July on sea ice or land or in open water, for the western Beaufort and eastern Chukchi seas combined.

This July we had 38 polar bears! Thirty. Eight.

While it may seem like a good thing to see so many bears, we cannot assume that increased sightings equals an increasing population. In fact, it may be quite the contrary.

Historically, polar bears in the Beaufort Sea spent their entire year on sea ice, except for females that spent winter in dens on the coastal plain. Recently, an increasing number of polar bears are coming ashore in the western Beaufort Sea and they are arriving earlier, leaving later, and staying for longer periods overall.

From 2012 to 2018 during the month of July, ASAMM recorded only three polar bears on shore. Those three bears were seen in 2017, a year when sea ice retreated earlier in the season than most other years. In July 2019, 31 of the 38 bears recorded were seen on shore.

This is happening because of sea ice decline. Arctic sea ice in 2019 tied with 2007 and 2016 for the second lowest sea ice extent since modern recordkeeping began in the late 1970s. A marked decline in sea ice coverage and an increased period of ice absence in the southern Beaufort Sea in September has been documented over the last 15 years.”

Well, yes – she would say that seeing more bears doesn’t mean there are more bears: that’s the official line to explain any and all increases in recent onshore sightings or problems with bears (even though in the 1980s, seeing more bears did mean more bears).

By her own admission, 2017 had an early retreat of sea ice in the Southern Beaufort, yet only three bears were seen onshore during the July portion of the summer survey, so she explains away this contradiction by talking about trends. However, citing 30 year trends in sea ice decline to explain events one specific time is a PR stunt: it’s a way of spinning information to suit the narrative but scientifically, it makes absolutely no sense.

A look at the ice record for those two years (2017 and 2019) shows very little difference in the Southern Beaufort: there was some ice remaining in the western portion both years by the beginning of July but the rest was virtually ice-free.

Sea ice Canada 2019 July 2

Sea ice Canada 2017 July 7

By mid-July, there was actually more ice off the Alaska coast in 2019 than there was in 2017 (both images below) and yet there were only three bears spotted onshore during July in 2017 but 31 in 2019:

Sea ice Canada 2019 July 16

Sea ice Canada 2017 July 16

There is going to have to be a better story than ‘not enough ice’ to explain the abundance of fat, healthy polar bears seen in July 2019 on the Beaufort coast. I will also point out that since these bears were right off the ice in July, they did not get fat from feeding on last year’s whale carcasses, as shown below: they got fat from their spring feeding.

Nine fat bears, including mothers with cubs, were found attracted to 2018’s picked-over whale carcasses near Prudhoe Bay at Cross Island in late July 2019 (below): the first bowhead of the season in 2019 was not taken until 29 August.

Nine polar bears, including mothers and cubs, feeding on bowhead whale remains on Cross Island NOAA 23 Oct 2019

Also from the report, regarding bears at whale carcasses [my bold]:

“Prior to 2019, the earliest ASAMM has recorded large aggregations of polar bears was August 15, in 2016 (13 bears).  In 2019, ASAMM documented 20 polar bears on Cross Island by late July.

Throughout the remainder of the 2019 field season, ASAMM continued to see high numbers of polar bears along the western Beaufort Sea coast on several occasions.  On October 23, ASAMM documented 32 polar bears – mostly mothers with cubs – on Cross Island.

These bears were fat enough in July to easily survive a 4-5 month fast like the bears do in Western Hudson Bay, who typically fast from early July to November. Ice had returned to the eastern portion of the Southern Beaufort by late October (below) and had extended east and west by the 14th of November:

Canada sea ice extent 2019 Oct 26

Here are more pictures from the report, all showing fat, healthy bears.

A fat mother with two-year old cubs rest on a beach:

Mother and two-year-old cubs resting onshore SB_NOAA summer 2019

Several fat bears, including a mother and cub, rest on a beach:

Fat bears on SB beach_NOAA summer 2019

In western Alaska, four fat bears feed on a bowhead whale carcass that does not appear to be the remains of subsistence hunting (i.e. a natural death):

Four polar bears on a bowhead whale carcass near W Beaufort Sea shoreline_NOAA Summer 2019

And lastly, here are two family groups identified by the observers: a mother with three cubs (a triplet litter rarely seen outside Western Hudson Bay) and another with two cubs, that look just as fat and healthy as the others:

Two females one with three cubs _L_ and one with two cubs _R_NOAA summer 2019

From the 2018 survey, is an extremely fat bear in August relaxing near Barrow (now Utqiagvik) after feeding on a walrus carcass nearby (hence the bloody face):

Fat bear near Barrow late August 2019 NOAA

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60 thoughts on “2019 Alaska aerial survey found the most polar bears since 2012 – dozens of fat healthy bears

    • And of course MS means more of the same and PhD means piled high and deep. I’m glad I received a BA in history. A historian doesn’t need a degree in the hard sciences. I can just look back in time and see if what they said actually came about. No more snow? Nah.

    • Normally, we would get some comments from Griff whenever good news about Polar Bears are the subject, but he said he wasn’t going to comment anymore at WUWT because he would have to register under the new rules WUWT will implement soon. I think he is overreacting a little. Maybe he will change his mind.

      He could still comment on this particular bit of good news, since at present, he is not required to register.

      What do you think, Griff? Susan seems to be doing a really good job of reporting on these flourishing polar bears, don’t you think?.

  1. Dear Charles,
    You got the meme wrong. Obviously, you are lousy at this AGW Alarmist thingy.
    If you were any good at it, you would have written, “31 Polar Bears seen too weak to move due to hunger because of Global Warming.”
    How do expect to get grants and funding for “research” when you are this bad at Alarmism? Sheesh!

    Cheers.

    • Well, their size/shape belies that they’re hungry — in fact, looks like they can hardly move due to gross obesity. No doubt caused by CAGW.

    • I am new here, so forgive me for being so ill informed as far as the rules of proper behavior and procedure are concerned. I merely wanted to point out the fact that you KcTaz, are obviously one of those fake supporters of the truth. Otherwise, you would have known that the term Global Warming is no longer an accepted catch phrase. We must use the accepted words, Climate Change now. That way, it allows for any weather phenomenom to be claimed as support for the liberal, money cow that is the Globull Warming movement, used to keep climate ” scientists’ in grants, so that a profession that normally has only boring, nerds who are lucky to have a job, is able to draw enough money so that they can get television coverage. That in turn draws the beautiful people to the ranks of climate change ” scientists”, so that the climate nerds have dates on Saturday night. If it means that they have to lie about each others so called scientific papers that they publish about the subject, and say that the world is ending in 12 years, in order to sleep with a hot chick instead of another weekend alone with their favorite porn movie star, and even get money to fly all over the world to various climate panels, usually in places like Sweden and Barcelona, or St. Marten, and various places where the women are hot and the weather is too, that is just a burden that they must bear.
      Speaking of bear, I believe that Polar Bears are at a higher number since the 50’s. But they have devised a way to say that it is just a mirage. These people are not only smart, but they are just like a 17 year old hormonal boy. Once they are exposed to those hot women, they will do whatever it takes to keep that happening.
      Although if I remember when I was 17, if one of the hot teachers had slept with me, she would not have had to worry about getting arrested because I could not keep myself quiet. I might have been happy, but I would not have been dumb.
      And while all of this was in fun, I will be bookmarking this website. I am not a climate science denier, just a lie denier. So thanks for such a fact filled place to keep up with the truth.

  2. Those devious and uncooperative bears! Are they over stocking on offspring because they know the next ice age is breathing down our necks?

  3. Assertion: Climate change is endangering polar bears…

    Correction: Climate change is endangering seals and walruses. Hours later, the polar bears were observed to be sprawled on the ground barely lucid in a state of dietary contentment.

  4. All thos P-bear images were with drones. “UAS” in the parlance of the real users.
    UAS aerial videos and photography are revolutionizing this field of in field ecology study.
    Affordable systems can allow studies of behavior without the P-bears noticing or caring.

    It will lay bare (as a scam) all the bad science that that has come before trying to claim P-bears are in decline.

    I have the latest DJI Mavic 2 Pro. It blows me away what I can do with it and its hi-end Hasselblad-mounted video and still camera. The 4K video is stunning in color and depth. Running the still shots through my Aurora image software on my iMac creates just stunning images.
    The big area the US’s FAA is screwing-up on is UAS night operations. They are clueless bureaucrats trying to stop something they can not. If you can’t enforce it, regulations are meaningless. The FCC found that out in the late 70’s with CB radios and finally gave up trying to regulate them.

    I have my FAA UAS license and I play it legal. It is tough though because the FAA has imposed far more Draconian limits on UAS/drones than what they are capable of. Even safely. There is no difference in safety day or night. Just rules. And the technology is fast out-pacing the DC bureaucrats’ rules.

    Modern drones with hi-intensity LED lighting work (for visibility)are just fine with large CCD low-light image sensors and they produce stunning night videography and pictures. Expensive FLIR sensors are not required except for special applications. The on-going Colorado Drone Chase is fun for me to watch from my Arizona as these clueless bureaucrats try to figure out this tech and how badly they are being outclassed by modern systems and savvy operators.

    As here:
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-colorado-drones/task-force-formed-to-probe-source-of-mysterious-drones-over-colorado-idUSKBN1Z605D

  5. They will get diabetes from over eating. One day soon there will be a law made somewhere on this planet that climate sarcasm is a hate crime…anyone want to bet against me?

    • Not me,.

      About 25 years ago arguing with a now sadly deceased early adopter of the oncoming CO2 induced climate catastrophe I told him that politicians would use this as an excuse for taxes that people couldn’t argue against and more control over our lives. I suppose he was fortunate not to live long enough to see the taxes and XR.

    • From overeating carbohydrate laden walruses, seals, etc. They may even need to consume vitamin supplements to fill in critical missing links.

  6. Wow! Officially more poley bears, and fat at at that! Does this mean that Dr. Susan Crockford gets her position back? NO? Why not?

  7. Polar Bears are air breathing. Their food are all air breathing: Seals, Walruses, Whales. All need open water or breaks in the ice to breath. The exception would be fish, but here again, if the ice was an unbroken sheet the Bears would not be able to access the fish in the water.

  8. Yeah but there are sophisticated computer models using machine learning that tell us polar bears will be extinct in 12 years if the global temperature reaches 1.5* C above pre-industrial temperatures :-))

  9. Susan:

    Thank again for your informative post. Is there a schedule for the release of the 2017-2018 official population study?

  10. Word Wildlife Fund has a polar bear adoption program they’re advertising on TV right now. To buy them exercycles, I guess.

  11. There were the most bears counted on shore by our lackluster flights searching for polar bears.
    The result of this photographic evidence?
    More bears actually means there are less bears!.

    All of the bears spotted were very fat.
    How the activist “independent” researcher accepts the “fat bears” condition?
    Fat bears means they had to work very hard to find food! The bears are close to starvation!

    Doesn’t anyone at the Federal Government read this sophistry before allowing the activists to publish crapola?

  12. “While it may seem like a good thing to see so many bears, we cannot assume that increased sightings equals an increasing population. In fact, it may be quite the contrary.”

    So, if one were to likewise state “Also, we cannot assume that DEcreased sightings equals a DEcreasing population”, one wonders what kind of reaction a statement like that would elicit. Hmmmmmmm.

    • scross–you’re not getting the bigger picture here. Remember that Climate Change means drought and more rain. It means hotter weather and record lows. It means everyone will die of starvation while the earth is greening and producing record crops. It means kids won’t see snow any more but cattle will die by the thousands from snow storms in places that have never seen them before. It means we’ve stolen our children’s future when we’ve had the longest period of world peace and prosperity ever recorded. It means still-suffering climate refugees migrating to the north when the world has pulled more people from poverty since civilization began.

      OK. Clear?

  13. Nice to have the rational explanation of these photos before the BBC and Attenborough get involved. They will reinterpret bears rolling in the sand as “distraught polar bears rolling in agony their coats having been burned brown by global warming”. The other similarly comfortably fed bears will be described as “polar bears declining into a terminal stupor from global warming induced obesity and diabetes.

  14. Our youngest daughter has been working as helicopter pilot at Prudhoe Bay. Mostly for transporting people and material to the oil wells in the Ice Sea, but occasionally to tag polar bears with satellite collars to track their movements. In one occasion a male bear was track followed who did swim some 500 km (over 300 miles) from the floating ice to the main land. Must be an Olympic record even for polar bears, but anyway polar bears are excellent swimmers and even find sufficient food on retracting ice, at least in spring where they need it most after fasting for months.
    I was at the excellent speech of Susan Crockford in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, thanks a lot for such an expert and independent source of the real bear world…

  15. Where did all that drift wood come from? It must be the bears migrating south, harvesting trees, and bringing them north to build rafts so they can survive the melt down.

  16. Wait! I thought Polar Bears couldn’t survive without ice. How are these cute and cuddlies so fat without ice to keep them from drowning whilst hunting dinner? Somebodies been pulling my leg!

  17. The typical convoluted logic of global-warming scaremongers: more polar bears on shore means less total polar bears.

    Polar bears are probably smarter than those who write articles saying that seeing more bears means less bears. They come to the shore in early spring to feed on walruses and seals when they come ashore to breed. After that, they might float out on an ice floe to catch a few fish swimming near the ice, but if the ice is over a hundred miles offshore in summer, why would a polar bear sit out on a cold, lifeless ice floe waiting for an occasional fish (when most of them are probably in shallow, warmer water near the shore), when it could swim to shore and feed on whale carcasses (when available) or freshwater fish in streams, or small mammals on land?

    In an ideal world for the global-warming scaremonger crowd, the entire Arctic Ocean would remain ice-bound all year round. In such a case, where would the seals and walruses come ashore, since they need open water to be able to breathe on their way to breed? They would be forced to breed farther south, and the polar bears would probably follow them, but the polar bears may have to share their prey with other predators, and have a smaller hunting ground. What effect would that have on the polar bear population?

    • “Polar bears are probably smarter than those who write articles saying that seeing more bears means less bears.”

      Lol ! That’s funny! 🙂

  18. Oh, those poor polar bears. Rolling around in the dirt because all the ice has melted. Or that’s what Greta and Al Gore would see.

  19. Fat shaming the bears- the greenies will have to sue on their behalf. Will the geenies claim that the whale died from “climate change?” Will the greenies claim that being fat will be most unhealthy for the bears in terms of heart disease as well as the psychological effects of the fat shaming.

  20. “ Well, yes – she would say that seeing more bears doesn’t mean there are more bears:” that’s interesting logic. So we can say that just because we see more degrees in the temperature doesn’t mean there are more degrees than before. Or just because we are seeing more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doesn’t mean there’s more – maybe it was hanging out with the missing polar bears and now their party is over so they are all showing up on the measurements…..

  21. I hearing rumors that in Canada it is so bad the Inuit are going to petition for “Endangered Species” status for themselves in order to qualify for government protection from hungry polar bears raiding their villages for food …

  22. “dozens of fat healthy bears” – really!! Some of these bears look so exhausted they can’t even stand up! They are obviously suffering from the unprecedented lack of ice and snow. And if the Guardian use this text, I want a name check

  23. Vibe (1967) noted that the number of polar bears caught in south west Greenland followed the sunspot cycle, lagging by approximately 2 years, postulating that the solar cycle exerts a significant influence on the behaviour of North Atlantic sea ice.
    Vibe C. (1967), “Arctic animals in relation to climatic fluctuations”. København, C.A. Reitzel

  24. A clear case of adaptation. Obviously Polar bears are adapting easily to their new role of garbage disposal/recycling of the waste stream from the rapidly growing Eskimo populations.
    Here in SW Florida their distant cousins the racoons have long since abandoned the hunter – gatherer role in favour of dumpster-diving behind our best restaurants.
    Cheers
    Mike

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