Record number of Chukchi Sea polar bears in 2020

Reposted from Dr. Susan Crockford’s Polar Bear Science.

Wrangel Island research team counted a record number of Chukchi Sea polar bears in 2020

Posted on September 21, 2021 | Comments Offon Wrangel Island research team counted a record number of Chukchi Sea polar bears in 2020

Many Chukchi Sea polar bears spend the summer on Wrangel Island and a survey there conducted by Russian researchers in 2020 reportedly collected data on a record 747 bears, well up from the 589 reportedly counted in 2017 by the same team (photo below is from 2015).

Note the latest survey of the Chukchi Sea estimated about 3,000 bears inhabit the region (AC SWG 2018; Regehr et al. 2018), at least 1,000 more that the figure of 2,000 used in recent IUCN assessments and survival predictions (Amstrup et al. 2007; Regehr et al. 2016; Wiig et al. 2015). Wrangel Island is the primary terrestrial denning area in the Chukchi Sea (Garner et al. 1984; Rode et al. 2014) and a recently published study showed that the body condition (i.e. fatness) and litter size of Chukchi Sea polar bears has not been negatively affected by low summer sea ice (Rode et al. 2021).

According to a short project report last week from polar bear specialist Eric Regehr (formerly at the US Wildlife Service, now University of Washington), filed on 14 September 2021 (‘Polar bears on Wrangel Island‘), Russian researchers at the Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve were able to continue work that began in 2016 as a joint American/Russian project. Covid-19 restrictions kept US researchers from participating in 2020 and again this year.

There were no details provided on the methodology of the study and no report on the work is yet available. But rest assured that if any signs of a population collapse or starving bears had been spotted, it would have been headline news around the world instead of a ‘good news’ story on the Polar Bears International website. On the contrary, the photo that accompanies Regehr’s article (below) appears to show a female with four cubs-of-the-year, a rare phenomenon also reported in 2017. In fact, it sounds like the Chukchi Sea subpopulation is still ‘productive and heathly’ as Regehr told the Daily Mail they were in 2017, despite markedly reduced summer sea ice since 2007.

Polar bear numbers on Wrangel Island since 2007

Although methods of counting and amount of the island surveyed might not be comparable between years (impossible to know at this point), here is what the reported counts have been year to year:

2020 747 bears (Regehr 2021)

2017 589 bears (Regehr, quoted in the Daily Mail 2017)

2012 ~200-300 bears (Ovsyanikov and Menyushina 2015)

2013 ~200-300 bears (Ovsyanikov and Menyushina 2015)

2007 ~550-600 bears (Ovsyanikov 2010)

Sea ice conditions

The number of bears taking refuge on Wrangel Island during the summer clearly varies year to year. This variability may be a function of local sea ice conditions, which also vary year to year, rather than reflecting the overall numbers of bears in the subpopulation. However, contrary to predictions that lack of ice year after year should cause population stress, counts of bears on Wrangel Island in ‘high-bear’ years have clearly increased since 2007 despite a corresponding decline in summer sea ice.

This year (at 19 September 2021), Wrangel Island is still almost surrounded by ice, as it was earlier this month, which may mean that fewer bears have spent the summer on the island. We won’t know until next year, when this summer’s survey results are released, if that has been the case or not.

In 2020 when the survey discussed above found record numbers of polar bears, the pack ice was well away from Wrangel Island on the same date (19 September), as shown below.

Similarly in 2017, when 589 bears were found on Wrangel, sea ice extent in the Chukchi Sea at mid-September (below) was more like 2020: far, far away.

In contrast, in 2012 (at 13 September, see closeup below) there was a patch of ice around Wrangel even though Chukchi Sea ice in general was at a very low extent, with only about 200-300 bears counted on the island. This is what suggests counts for 2021 may be similar: probably not as low as 2012 but lower than 2020. In high-ice years like 2021, pregnant females may make up the bulk of bears that spend the summer on Wrangel. Time will tell if that’s the case.


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. pdf here.

Amstrup, S.C., Marcot, B.G. & Douglas, D.C. 2007. Forecasting the rangewide status of polar bears at selected times in the 21st century. US Geological Survey. Reston, VA. Pdf here

Garner, G.W., Belikov, S.E., Stishov, M.S., Barnes Jr., V.G. and Arthur, S.M. 1984. Dispersal pattern of maternal polar bears from the denning concentration on Wrangel Island. International Conference on Bear Research and Management (now URSUS) 9(1):401-410.

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

Regehr, E.V., Laidre, K.L, Akçakaya, H.R., Amstrup, S.C., Atwood, T.C., Lunn, N.J., Obbard, M., Stern, H., Thiemann, G.W., & Wiig, Ø. 2016. Conservation status of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in relation to projected sea-ice declines. Biology Letters 12: 20160556.

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 20:76-88.

Rode, K.D., Regehr, E.V., Bromaghin, J.F., Wilson, R.R., Martin, M.S., Crawford, J.A. and Quakenbush, L.T. 2021. Seal body condition and atmospheric circulation patterns influence polar bear body condition, recruitment, and feeding ecology in the Chukchi Sea. Global Change Biology 27:2684-2701.

Ovsyanikov, N. 2010. Polar bear research on Wrangel Island and in the central Arctic Basin. In, Proceedings of the 15th meeting of the Polar Bear Specialists Group IUCN/SSC, 29 June-3 July, 2009, edited by Obbard, M.E., Theimann, G.W., Peacock, E. and DeBryn, T.D., pp. 171-178. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge UK, IUCN. pdf here.

Ovsyanikov, N.G. and Menyushina, I. E. 2015. Demographic processes in Chukchi-Alaskan polar bear population as observed in Wrangel Island region. pg. 37-55, In: Marine Mammals of the Holarctic, Collection of Scientific Papers. Vol. 2. Moscow. pdf here.

Wiig, Ø., Amstrup, S., Atwood, T., Laidre, K., Lunn, N., Obbard, M., et al. 2015. Ursus maritimus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T22823A14871490. Available from [accessed Nov. 28, 2015]. See the supplement for population figures.

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Tom Halla
September 23, 2021 7:05 pm

Polar bears have survives several ice age cycles, so claims that the poor beasties are particularly environmentally sensitive always stuck me as dubious.

Reply to  Tom Halla
September 24, 2021 6:42 am

The bear family, Ursidae, is thought to have split from other carnivorans about 38 million years ago. The subfamily Ursinae originated approximately 4.2 million years ago. The oldest known polar bear fossil is a 130,000 to 110,000-year-old jaw bone, found on Prince Charles Foreland in 2004. Fossils show that between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, the polar bear’s molar teeth changed significantly from those of the brown bear. Polar bears are thought to have diverged from a population of brown bears that became isolated during a period of glaciation in the Pleistocene from the eastern part of Siberia (from Kamchatka and the Kolym Peninsula).

The evidence from DNA analysis is more complex. The mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of the polar bear diverged from the brown bear, Ursus arctos, roughly 150,000 years ago. Further, some clades of brown bear, as assessed by their mtDNA, were thought to be more closely related to polar bears than to other brown bears, meaning that the brown bear might not be considered a species under some species concepts, but paraphyletic. The mtDNA of extinct Irish brown bears is particularly close to polar bears. A comparison of the nuclear genome of polar bears with that of brown bears revealed a different pattern, the two forming genetically distinct clades that diverged approximately 603,000 years ago, although the latest research is based on analysis of the complete genomes (rather than just the mitochondria or partial nuclear genomes) of polar and brown bears, and establishes the divergence of polar and brown bears at 400,000 years ago.


September 23, 2021 7:24 pm

Polar bears should be the climate realists mascot.

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  markl
September 24, 2021 1:36 am

A picture of a cuddly bear and cubs. Written over it: “Reports of out demise are greatly exaggerated”.

September 23, 2021 8:01 pm

For the hundredth time – you will not win the climate debate by counting polar bears

Reply to  Eben
September 23, 2021 8:08 pm

Maybe not, but it puts another nail in the coffin for alarmist hype. A nail at time keeps alarmism in line.

Steve Case
Reply to  aussiecol
September 23, 2021 9:46 pm

Keeps alarmism in line? Marc Morano was recently asked if he was winning the battle, and he said, “No, we are losing badly.”

In another article here on WUWT I pointed out that the “Hey Hey Ho Ho Capitalism has to go!” crowd is now in charge, and the goal is not saving the bears, whales or the planet, the goal is to destroy western culture.

Reply to  Steve Case
September 24, 2021 1:08 am

You may be right. But I guess the good work done by people such as Susan, are all doing their bit to try and save some sanity in the world. Better than doing nothing at all.

Pamela Matlack-Klein
Reply to  Steve Case
September 24, 2021 2:39 am

Yes, that is their goal and when they finally accomplish their wanton destruction they will still not be happy but will then look around for something else to destroy. Envy of what others have is a disgusting trait that has been encouraged by evil people for thousands of years. If you want what your neighbor has, first decide if it will make your life better. If the answer is yes, then do what is necessary to elevate your own life to wherever it needs to be to make you happy.

Rory Forbes
Reply to  Eben
September 23, 2021 9:13 pm

you will not win the climate debate by counting polar bears

You won’t win the debate because there is no debate. The “science” is just an expensive smoke screen for politics. Only an utter fool believes colder weather is preferable to warmer weather or that there is any crisis occurring. We’ve been living in arguably the most benign period in human history.

The only thing that works is scorn and mocking their posturing. They rarely offer anything but sophistry and deception. The bears are just a diversion.

Joao Martins
Reply to  Rory Forbes
September 24, 2021 2:18 am

You are right!

In science there is no debate about polar bear population dynamics! It is independent of climate considering the climatic variations in the range of thousands of years. It is one of the fields where we can say that science is settled.

Last edited 22 days ago by Joao Martins
Ron Long
Reply to  Rory Forbes
September 24, 2021 3:29 am

Good comment, Rory. I have tried scientific data and not gotten anywhere, so I think I will try scorn and mocking now, from a safe distance, of course.

Joao Martins
Reply to  Eben
September 24, 2021 2:14 am

“… you will not win the climate debate by counting polar bears

But climate alarmists have used polar bear counts to demagogically push their agenda!…

Two weights, two measures!? Is that the normal behaviour and ethics of the proponents of the religion of “climate change”!

Pamela Matlack-Klein
Reply to  Eben
September 24, 2021 2:35 am

And alarmists will not score any points lying about how the polar bears are vanishing because we use fossil fuel!

Rich Davis
Reply to  Pamela Matlack-Klein
September 24, 2021 4:53 am

Alas Pamela, that may not be the case. As Dr C alluded to, this summer was a high-ice season around Wrangel Island. When there’s more sea ice, some of the bears spend more time away from land. The 2021 count may be expected to be lower than in 2020 when any bears off island were swimming. The methodology of estimating the total population based on the count on land looks to me to be suspect. However, it won’t stop griff from claiming that the lower count in 2021 vs 2020 means that the total population is plummeting. Watch this space.

Pamela Matlack-Klein
Reply to  Rich Davis
September 24, 2021 5:10 am

Accurate counts of wild animals is a tricky business. They move around, hide, and generally refuse to line up in orderly rows to be counted. When it comes to counting large predators one must be careful not to become a meal. And even counting herbivores is fraught with danger. Elk, bison, reindeer, musk ox, and pretty much all hoofed animals can really damage a human trying to count them if that human gets to close to a baby.

Reply to  Eben
September 24, 2021 4:01 am

And yet it is being lost because of counting Polar Bears. Hurts, don’t it?

Reply to  Eben
September 24, 2021 5:53 am

If we don’t refute their lies, they win by default.

September 23, 2021 8:02 pm

Maybe the poley bears are climate refugees. /s

Steve Case
Reply to  lee
September 23, 2021 9:47 pm

No they are not, they are doing fine.

Rory Forbes
September 23, 2021 9:00 pm

Had it occurred to the warmunists that polar bears might prefer warmer weather and less ice, just as most other species on this planet do? Gawd knows humans do and obviously warmer weather promotes prosperity. Are the AGW true believers immune to basic science and common sense?

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  Rory Forbes
September 23, 2021 9:27 pm

I know, I know


Steve Case
Reply to  Rory Forbes
September 23, 2021 9:52 pm

Are the AGW true believers immune to basic science and common sense?

No, they are immune from understanding that communism and socialism has failed where ever it has been tried. Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia was the most recent example of where it ultimately proceeds to if not stopped.

Last edited 22 days ago by Steve Case
Rory Forbes
Reply to  Steve Case
September 26, 2021 9:59 am

Oddly, I just received notice of your reply today. You’re right, though. All this discussion about the science is just a red herring intended to distract us from the real purpose of the AGW fraud. Socialists are certain that they will be able to breath life into a failed ideology. Or maybe they simply realize that “the people” believe that pigs can fly and they can become rich without hard work, discipline and good luck.

Steve Case
Reply to  Rory Forbes
September 26, 2021 10:16 pm

My post was under moderation all this time, I just got notification that my post was approved. I haven’t a clue what tripped the moderation robot’s attention.

Rory Forbes
Reply to  Steve Case
September 26, 2021 10:31 pm

I’m guessing that “Pol Pot’s genocide” may have had something to do with tripping the censorship alarm.

Rory Forbes
Reply to  Steve Case
September 26, 2021 10:34 pm

Yep … that’s exactly what did it. My post is now in the “awaiting approval” queue. This post will make sense in the fullness of time … 🙂

pHil R
Reply to  Rory Forbes
September 24, 2021 10:02 am

Had it occurred to the warmunists that polar bears might prefer warmer weather and less ice, just as most other species on this planet do? Gawd knows humans do and obviously warmer weather promotes prosperity. Are the AGW true believers immune to basic science and common sense?

With all due respect, I must say that at this stage of the game I can’t believe these questions are still being asked. these questions take as an unspoken assumption that warmunists care about science and are playing by the same rules. You ask two questions. the answers are:

  1. They don’t care about the preferences of polar bears. In fact, they don’t care about polar bears at all except how they can lie about and exploit polar bears to gain power.
  2. AGW true believers don’t give a sh*t (pardon my French) about basic science or common sense. See exhibit one, Griff.

I am believing more and more every day that you can’t have a rational, reasonable discussion with irrational, unreasonable ideologues and activists.

Rory Forbes
Reply to  pHil R
September 24, 2021 1:02 pm

The questions were rhetorical, with more than a hint of derision … so they shouldn’t require an answer, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to spell it out in detail, as you did.

I am believing more and more every day that you can’t have a rational, reasonable discussion with irrational, unreasonable ideologues and activists

Precisely. That is the only way to approach the problem. The true believers have no science to offer. It has all been shown to be valueless. Every part of their narrative is almost always predicated upon some logical fallacy, so argument with them is pointless.

Reply to  pHil R
September 24, 2021 3:45 pm

“AGW true believers don’t give a sh*t (pardon my French)”

If it was French, it’d be more like, “Les AGW vrais croyants du je-m’en-foutisme”


Last edited 21 days ago by ATheoK
Phil R
Reply to  ATheoK
September 24, 2021 6:08 pm

Merde, I hate it when I screw up my French!

pHil R
Reply to  Rory Forbes
September 24, 2021 10:04 am

Aaaannnd…Griff proves my point just a few comments below (or above, depending on where this comment gets posted). 🙂

Rory Forbes
Reply to  pHil R
September 24, 2021 1:04 pm

Griff can always be counted on to be is own worst enemy.

Steve Case
September 23, 2021 9:34 pm

We are often told that we are in the Anthropocene, the human epoch, and one of the features is extinction of the large megafauna. As true as that may be or not, of the many large megafauna around the world, you know, elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, giraffes, hippos etc. that are likely on a path to extinction or only survive in zoos or nature preserves, there’s one group of large quadrupeds that will survive in their original range and original numbers, and that’s the polar bears.

I tell that to my liberal friends, and they look at me like I’m nuts, but I’m pretty sure that’s true. Why? Because polar bears live where humans can’t and don’t want to. I also tell them that the bears continue to increase in population since the 1973 agreement to stop hunting them from aircraft and power boats, and they don’t believe that either. I refrain from telling them that they have been brainwashed.

Last edited 22 days ago by Steve Case
Coeur de Lion
Reply to  Steve Case
September 23, 2021 11:50 pm

You are quite right, Steve. Read ‘Arctic Dreams’ by Barry Lopez for a chapter on PBS and they Darwinian adaptation. Wonderful. They’ll outlive humans

Pamela Matlack-Klein
Reply to  Steve Case
September 24, 2021 2:47 am

Once a species ceases to be hunted for food it rallies in numbers. Today, large animals are hunted for fun and a trophy, really a disgusting way to treat them. Killing for food is acceptable and necessary but killing just to stuff the animal and display one’s prowess as a hunter is a shabby way to feel big. My rule has always been, if you kill it you better plan on eating it afterwards! And make good use of as much of the animal as possible.

September 23, 2021 10:55 pm

But all the polar are dead aren’t they? That’s what I’ve been told for the last 40 years

September 24, 2021 1:29 am

If they are on Wrangel, perhaps it is because they aren’t on the massively diminished ice?

Reply to  griff
September 24, 2021 2:49 am

Stop talking BS.
They have been on Wrangel since forever and their numbers would be declining there if they were going extinct.
1 ) it’s a small island compared to russias coastline.
The chance that polar bears will find the island by coincidence instead of the russian or any other coast etc is at best 1:200 = almost every polar bear that is there,is there because they were born there as this island is a traditional “breeding” place for polar bears since forever.
And the reason chick polar bears love this place so much is
a)it has the highest world population of walrussians.(formerly known as walsoviets and not related to little green walmartians)
b)the highest level of biodiversity in that climatic region = more food.
The reason i “m writing this is because the typical triggered AGW drone…. expert will now exercise his Pavlov Reflex.
” Well it’s the lack of ice and too much global warming that forces them to live there”

This is total bullshit as the reason for the high bio diversity is and only can be a traditional warm climate.
So warm Wrangel island was even not glaciated during the Quaternary ice age.
Though you can bet your butt that experts will nowadays claim that the island was supercold,full of ice and snow ,short cold summers before AGW etc.
So Wrangel island is a fantastic example to show the scale of deliberate AGW expert propaganda that has nothing to do with reality.

Pamela Matlack-Klein
Reply to  griff
September 24, 2021 2:49 am

They don’t need the ice, have just learned to make the best of it! Seal will still come ashore to whelp, they don’t need the ice either. If the Arctic were ice-free 100% of the time these animals would still thrive.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Pamela Matlack-Klein
September 24, 2021 4:42 am

That’s the bottom line.

Rich Davis
Reply to  griff
September 24, 2021 5:08 am

Thanks for agreeing with Dr. Crockford, griff. Maybe a good time to issue your long-overdue apology to her.

In which time period would you prefer to live your life?
[__] Benign low CO2 1675-1750
[__] Dangerous CO2 1950-2025

Reply to  griff
September 24, 2021 5:16 am

Griffie-poo: admit it, you’ve failed in every prediction you’ve ever made, and you’re starting to sound desperate. You’re not even any good as a troll. Find a new line of work. Why not do something useful and retrain as an HGV driver? (We need them right now in the UK!)

Reply to  griff
September 24, 2021 5:55 am

It’s the end of summer, ice always diminishes in the summer and the bears always come ashore at that time. So nothing unusual there.
As to ice, it’s been climbing for the last 10 years. So all of your predictions have failed.

September 24, 2021 3:54 am

This year, the ice in the Chukchi Sea had a greater extent than in previous years.comment image

Reply to  ren
September 24, 2021 5:57 am

So much for griff’s claim of massive ice losses forcing the bears ashore.

September 24, 2021 4:02 am

Ahhh, the winning, it just doesn’t stop!

Tom Abbott
Reply to  2hotel9
September 24, 2021 4:46 am

The alarmists may be winning the propaganda war, but they are losing the reality war/argument because none of their predictions are coming to pass.

And I’m not so sure they are winning the propaganda war, either. The polls are all over the place, and as with every poll, the way the poll question is asked makes all the difference as to how the question is answered.

Last edited 22 days ago by Tom Abbott
Reply to  Tom Abbott
September 24, 2021 4:53 am

More and more people are simply tuning them out. It is far easier to get people all upset about inappropriate “gender pronouns” because it is clear there is nothing wrong with the climate, it is just fine.

Reply to  2hotel9
September 24, 2021 5:18 am

All scare stories have a limited life, and CAGW is one.

Reply to  Graemethecat
September 24, 2021 7:10 am

Which is why they keep repackaging their drivel. Can fool some of the people some of the time, most people simply start ignoring the stupidity.

pHil R
Reply to  Tom Abbott
September 24, 2021 10:06 am

Who is spending the tax dollars and where are they being spent? so far, it seems they are winning the propaganda war.

September 24, 2021 6:34 am

But you skeptics don’t get it.
The problem was never polar bear decline, just like there was no ice age scare in the 70’s.
It’s polar bear CHANGE.
Actually now it’s polar bear EXTREMES.
So more polar bears is just as bad as – or worse than – less polar bears.
And it’s rate of change too.
Polar bear numbers have NEVER IN EARTH”S HISTORY ever changed as fast as they are changing now.
Even back when there were dinosaurs, polar bear numbers were always constant (zero).
So there’s no escaping that we’re all going to die in 12 years – or is it 11 already?

Reply to  Hatter Eggburn
September 24, 2021 7:11 am

Actually it is under 8 years now. Everybody better hurry, may not get their new iphone before the world ends!

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