Polar bears again attracted to Russian town by dead walrus Attenborough blames on no sea ice

Reposted from Polar Bear Science

Posted on December 20, 2020 | 

In the news again: Cape Schmidt (on the Chukchi Sea) made famous by Sir David Attenborough’s false claim that walrus fell to their deaths because of lack of sea ice due to climate change when a clever polar bear hunting strategy was actually to blame.

Ryrkaypiy overrun by polar bears WWF photo
Ryrkaypiy overrun by polar bears Dec 2019 WWF photo

Last year in December (above), some bears were feeding at Ryrkaypiy’s garbage dump and wandering around town after being displaced from feeding on walrus carcasses by bigger, stronger bears on the nearby point.

This year, the town has managed to keep the bears out of town, so while the residents are having no real problems, more than 30 bears have been spotted near town, almost certainly feeding on natural-death carcasses of walrus along the shore (see photo below from 2017 where Ryrkaypiy can be seen in the background).

From the Russian news agency TASS (16 December 2020), my bold:

Almost 30 polar bears have come within a touching distance to the village of Ryrkaypiy in Chukotka. The animals have been peaceful so far, the WWF Russia told TASS.

“The small village of Ryrkaypiy in the west coast of Chukotka is approached by a few dozens of polar bears. The WWF Russia bear patrol brigade is handling the situation and is not letting the predators to enter the village,” the statement reads.

It is noted that the patrol counted around 30 bears today, they are behaving in a peaceful manner. “These are just the ones who could be seen with binoculars, there are likely more animals,” the press service explained.

In response to this report, polar bear specialist Andrew Derocher insisted that the only reason that these Chukchi Sea polar bears would be scavenging is lack of sea ice (below):https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=sjc_pbs&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1339684795194822662&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fpolarbearscience.com%2F2020%2F12%2F20%2Fpolar-bears-again-attracted-to-russian-town-by-dead-walrus-attenborough-blames-on-no-sea-ice%2F&siteScreenName=sjc_pbs&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=500px

However, ice charts for the 10th of December, almost one week before this report was published (below), show rather an abundance of sea ice off Ryrkaypiy:

In fact, there has been ice offshore for weeks in that part of the Chukchi Sea, certainly enough to attract the seals on which polar bears usually feed in the fall. The chart below is from 1 December 2020:

Derocher is describing what he thinks polar bears should do rather than assessing what the bears are actually doing. It is apparent that polar bears near Ryrkaypiy prefer to scavenge hundreds of walrus carcasses rather than hunt for live seals on the newly-formed ice and have been doing so since 2006 (see discussion below). Dead walrus, dead whales, and live seals are all natural food sources and provide the fat that polar bears need to thrive, so there is no reason to assume bears would not choose the more efficient route to a meal of fat when it presents itself.

Recent scientific studies have shown Chukchi Sea polar bears are in excellent condition and reproducing well despite recent declines in summer sea ice and there is no scientific evidence that this situation changed markedly this year (Adam et al. 2019; AC SWG 2018; Regehr et al. 2018; Rode et al. 2014, 2018). The latest survey estimated about 3,000 bears in the Chukchi Sea. On the contrary, there is every reason to suggest that more polar bears visiting Chukotka settlements in recent years is due to growing numbers of bears – as I suggested earlier this year to explain the rising problems with bears in Labrador. In other words, as was true in the 1980s, seeing more bears often means there are actually more bears.


Ryrkaypiy is located the base of a spit where walrus herds have congregated every few years in the fall, since at least 2007. Walrus numbers are way up compared to what they were in the 1990s and the size of herds that have come ashore in recent years have been rather astonishing (Crockford 2014; Fay and Kelly 1980; Fay et al. 1989; Fischbach et al. 2016; Lowry 1985; MacCracken et al. 2017). The town is just a little over a mile from the cliffs where the infamous Netflix and BBC walrus videos were shot in 2017. A mile is nothing for a polar bear: bears that ‘normally’ hang out on the spit are close enough to the village to cause trouble if they are so inclined.

In 2013, more than 40 polar bears were reported to be threatening Ryrkaypiy residents because they were drawn to two whale carcasses washed ashore nearby:

Bear scare: Crowds of polar predators ‘besiege’ Russian Far East town“(11 November 2013):

“Forty-three predators have gathered together near the village of Ryrkaypy, according to WWF Russia. Polar bears were spotted near the remains of two dead whales, washed onto the beaches several kilometers away from the Chukotka settlement.

The last time a large number of polar bears gathered in one place was discovered on the Arctic coast of Chukotka in the fall of 2006,” head of the Polar Bear Patrol WWF project Viktor Nikiforov said.”

Online news outlet Gizmodo reported in late October 2017:

“…Ryrkaypiy, a tiny village located on the northern coast of Chukotka bordering the Chukchi Sea. According to a report by the Siberian Times, 5,000 walruses recently hauled out on a shoreline near the village. The walruses were followed by about 20 polar bears, no doubt drawn by the stench of thousands of blubbery, flippered meals.

The arrival of the bears caused the walruses to panic, and many attempted to flee. Per the Siberian Times, “several hundred” fell to their deaths off the cliffs of the nearby Kozhevnikova Cape. The bears, naturally, went to town on the carcasses.”

In 2007, polar bears descended on the village after a massive herd of 40,000 walrus spent time on the spit that fall, leaving more than 500 carcasses on local beaches from animals that had died naturally from falls or trampling.

Bottom line: This year’s report differed from the influx of bears that terrorized the village in 2007 and 2019 because the village seems to have finally taken sufficient measures to keep the bears out of town. Lack of sea ice caused by human-caused global warming is not causing increasing numbers of polar bears to congregate around Ryrkaypiy in the late fall. A combination of increasing numbers of bears plus an abundance of walrus that have died of natural causes earlier in the year are almost certainly the proximate cause. Carcasses of walrus and dead whales are an attractive source of food for polar bears who must replenish fat they have lost over the summer before the cold and darkness of winter sets in. These sources of fat are just as useful to bears for that purpose as live seals and are easier to access. Polar bears are often smarter than polar bear biologists assume.


AC SWG 2018. Chukchi-Alaska polar bear population demographic parameter estimation. Eric Regehr, Scientific Working Group (SWG. Report of the Proceedings of the 10th meeting of the Russian-American Commission on Polar Bears, 27-28 July 2018), pg. 5. Published 30 July 2018. US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Adam, R., Bryan, A., Quakenbush, L., Crawford, J., and Biderman, L. 2019. Bearded seal productivity in Alaska using harvest-based monitoring, 1975-2016. Poster presentation, Alaska Marine Science Symposium, 28 January-1 February.

Crockford, S.J. 2014On The Beach: Walrus Haulouts are Nothing New. The Global Warming Policy Foundation Briefing 11, London. Pdf here

Fay, F.H. and Kelly, B.P. 1980. Mass natural mortality of walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) at St. Lawrence Island, Bering Sea, autumn 1978. Arctic 33:226-245. [open access] PDF here.

Fay, F.H., Kelly, B.P. and Sease, J.L. 1989. Managing the exploitation of Pacific walruses: a tradegy of delayed response and poor communication. Marine Mammal Science 5:1-16. PDF HERE.

Fischbach, A.S., Kochnev, A.A., Garlich-Miller, J.L. and Jay, C.V. 2016. Pacific walrus coastal haulout database, 1852-2016 – Background Report. USGS Open-File Report 2016-1108. DOI: 10.3133/ofr20161108 PDF HERE, download here.

Lowry, L. 1985. “Pacific Walrus – Boom or Bust?” Alaska Fish & Game Magazine July/August: 2-5. pdf here.

MacCracken, J.G., Beatty, W.S., Garlich-Miller, J.L., Kissling, M.L and Snyder, J.A. 2017. Final Species Status Assessment for the Pacific Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), May 2017 (Version 1.0). US Fish & Wildlife Service, Anchorage, AK. Pdf here (8.6 mb).

Regehr, E.V., Hostetter, N.J., Wilson, R.R., Rode, K.D., St. Martin, M., Converse, S.J. 2018. Integrated population modeling provides the first empirical estimates of vital rates and abundance for polar bears in the Chukchi Sea. Scientific Reports 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-34824-7 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-34824-7

Rode, K.D., Regehr, E.V., Douglas, D., Durner, G., Derocher, A.E., Thiemann, G.W., and Budge, S. 2014. Variation in the response of an Arctic top predator experiencing habitat loss: feeding and reproductive ecology of two polar bear populations. Global Change Biology 20(1):76-88. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.12339/abstract

Rode, K. D., R. R. Wilson, D. C. Douglas, V. Muhlenbruch, T.C. Atwood, E. V. Regehr, E.S. Richardson, N.W. Pilfold, A.E. Derocher, G.M Durner, I. Stirling, S.C. Amstrup, M. S. Martin, A.M. Pagano, and K. Simac. 2018. Spring fasting behavior in a marine apex predator provides an index of ecosystem productivity. Global Change Biology http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.13933/full

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Rory Forbes
December 22, 2020 10:29 am

However did the polar bears survive the Holocene Thermal Optimum, when the Arctic was most likely nearly ice free for most of the year? It’s true that their diet consists of seals at this time of year. Walruses are also seals … and a dead one is a bonanza for bears. Why wouldn’t a carcass attract numerous bears, in the same way bears are attracted to human garbage dumps?

Reply to  Rory Forbes
December 23, 2020 2:08 pm

Griff and Loydo have been asked this question many times, and have never replied.

Rory Forbes
Reply to  Graemethecat
December 23, 2020 2:48 pm

They don’t answer because they can’t answer that sort of question. It would requite processing empirical evidence rather than merely quoting from a script.Bears will eat rodents if they must … also berries, flowers, lichen and grass, not to mention bird’s eggs and carrion.

P Seward
December 22, 2020 10:42 am

“Polar bears are often smarter than polar bear biologists assume.”

Polar bears are often smarter than polar bear biologists. (Not counting Dr. Susan)

Reply to  P Seward
December 22, 2020 12:54 pm

when you put out bait to attract fish…it’s called chumming

December 22, 2020 10:53 am

Never let the facts get in the way of a good climate change story of the week.

Patrick MJD
December 22, 2020 11:47 am

Griff will be along soon to say this is caused by coal burning.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 22, 2020 3:51 pm

What? The abundant sea ice?

Reply to  ATheoK
December 22, 2020 8:26 pm

Griff should be joyous and happy

Day 355 2020 in NSIDC is above that of day 355 in the following years”

2010, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and just above the 14 year average.


Oh wait, it only posts if it thinks it can make an AGW point by cherry-picking the start date/period.

Peter Fraser
December 22, 2020 11:48 am

Some background on the life habits of walruses would be helpful. Do they behave like seals in the Southern Hemisphere which come ashore in large numbers to whelp and breed. An opportunistic meal of a recently whelped walrus pup and afterbirths I imagine would be a polar bears delight quite apart from eating decaying carcasses.

December 22, 2020 11:56 am

I would hope a couple of polar bear activists would go into the sloth of bears survey them. A short questionnaire would probably suffice: Why are you here? What are you doing? When did you get here? Where are you going next?

We can speculate all we want but the only reason the bears are there are known only to them.

Reply to  rbabcock
December 22, 2020 12:22 pm

Why are you here? FOOD

What are you doing? EATING

When did you get here? AS SOON AS I COULD.

Where are you going next? FIND MORE FOOD.

Rory Forbes
Reply to  fred250
December 22, 2020 1:06 pm

The only thing you left out was:

Find a boy/girl friend …
… and find a place to bed down for the winter.

Reply to  Rory Forbes
December 22, 2020 7:09 pm

And then pursue my self-actualization potential.

(h/t Dr. Abraham Mazlow)

Peta of Newark
December 22, 2020 12:32 pm

Am I reading this right…
That we seem now to have a situation where, you can lay blame on everybody else in this world when ‘nature‘ doesn’t do what you want it to do.
Or what some doddery old phart on the BBC says it should do
izzat ’bout right?

What are the words? Which planet am I on right now? What happened?

December 22, 2020 1:09 pm

It might be a good idea if someone would track the sea ice off the various locations of polar bear stories. That way whoever has the data can call bullshit(bearshit) whenever there is a story about no sea ice with data to refute the made up claim of “Global Warming No Sea Ice”.

December 22, 2020 1:34 pm

Polar bears eat red meat, threaten walrus viability. Send money to World Walrus Foundation.

December 22, 2020 3:49 pm

Polar bears are often smarter than polar bear biologists assume

The word “assume” is unnecessary and confuses the real issue.
Just end the sentence after “biologists”.

Reply to  ATheoK
December 23, 2020 9:12 am

They are clearly smarter than biologists and climatologists and all the other “gists” spewing their stupidity daily.

December 23, 2020 12:33 am

Walrus feed off ice floes over shallow water: they don’t haul out on land where bears can hunt/catch them in normal circumstances. That the walrus were on land is a consequence of low sea ice extent and its rapid retreat from land. That the bears were on land is also a consequence of sea ice decline.

This whole set of circumstances is entirely down to climate change impacting sea ice

Richard Page
Reply to  griff
December 23, 2020 3:08 am

So why then have walrus haul-outs been reported for at least the last 160 years? This is not recently learned behaviour – this IS what they do, no matter what the recent propaganda demands you believe.

Richard Page
Reply to  Richard Page
December 23, 2020 3:26 am

In fact, if you look at the archaeological research that has been done on known historic (land) walrus haul-out sites, you’ll find that walruses have been doing this behaviour (and been hunted) for thousands of years. It’s decidedly not a new behaviour pattern griff.

Reply to  griff
December 23, 2020 7:45 am

Nonsense. I’ve seen quite a lot of walrus in Svalbard. They routinely haul out on land even when there is sea-ice nearby. As a matter of fact I have only seen walrus hauled out on ice on two occasions. And this is where there are plenty of Polar Bears around both on land and on the ice.

And as a matter of fact while hunting on sea-ice is what Polar Bears do for a living they are not particularly good at hunting on land.

Reply to  griff
December 23, 2020 8:35 am

…………….”entirely down to climate change impacting sea ice”. Uh, grif, what is causing climate change?

Reply to  Anti-griff
December 23, 2020 1:17 pm

Since the polar bear is a climate warming symbol, why not show the picture of the bear with red seal blood smeared all over his face?

Reply to  griff
December 23, 2020 11:57 am

Total and absolute WALRUS SH*T !!!

Day 356 2020 in NSIDC is above day 356 of all of the following years for extent..

2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.

There is NO HUMAN IMPACT on Arctic sea ice.

Produce EVIDENCE instead of plaintive yapping, if you think that there is.

Arctic sea ice extent is MUCH HIGHER than it has been for NEARLY ALL the last 10,000 years.

Stop your childish CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL, griff.

Reply to  griff
December 23, 2020 12:00 pm

“is also a consequence of sea ice decline.”

Absolute and complete NONSENSE..

In fact, there has been ice offshore for weeks in that part of the Chukchi Sea.

YOU ARE A LIAR, griff.

Climate believer
Reply to  griff
December 23, 2020 2:10 pm

 That the walrus were on land is a consequence of low sea ice extent and its rapid retreat from land.

There are very detailed Russian accounts of walrus haulouts from the early nineties…. if you care to look.

Take a look at the haulout database, there’s a map and everything.


You are conflating natural phenomena with global warming™ alarmism and drawing the wrong conclusion. Seeing walruses in large numbers on beaches and other types of coastline is not unusual, they are very social creatures, they like to get together, what’s the problem?
comment image

Cape Serdtse­Kamen’ has been reported as a walrus haulout since 1920, so these poor creatures, according to you, have been short on ice for at least 100 years.

Coo coo ka choo…..

Climate believer
December 23, 2020 1:52 am

Derocher is describing what he thinks polar bears should do rather than assessing what the bears are actually doing. 

That is science today, whether it’s polar bears, pacific atolls you name it, coming to your conclusion before observing what’s really happening is the climate cult way, it’s just plain wrong.

December 23, 2020 3:29 am

a long time back an aussie comedian used to rip attenborough off
david rabbitburrow was the character and its funny
dunno if youtube would have any clips

Richard Page
Reply to  ozspeaksup
December 23, 2020 4:14 am

Loads of comedians used to send him up – now he’s getting his revenge. It’s a lot less funny now.

December 23, 2020 9:16 am

Ya know, if Polar Bears had a healthy fear of humans created and sustained by rigorous hunting they would not be a problem. As for the dead walarusi, why aren’t the Ryrkaypiyee butchering them instead of letting them rot and waste? The person responsible for that criminal action needs dragged in front of the local Commissariat and sentence to 20 years hard labor in the nearest gulag.

Richard Page
Reply to  2hotel9
December 24, 2020 8:23 am

After CITES, 20 years hard labour in the nearest gulag is probably what you’d get for chopping up even the already dead ones.

Reply to  Richard Page
December 28, 2020 5:46 am

Used to be “stranded” sea creatures were a boon to the area they stranded near, now it is a costly liability. Imagine that.

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