Conditions Were Not Golden For Polar Bears In The 1980s Despite What Activist Expert Claims

Reposted from Polar Bear Science

Dr. Susan Crockford

Does the following statement stand up to scrutiny – i.e. a fact check – of the scientific literature on polar bear ecology?

In the 1980s, “the males were huge, females were reproducing regularly and cubs were surviving well,” Amstrup said. “The population looked good.”

[Steven Amstrup, Anchorage Daily News (Borenstein and colleagues), 5 November 2021: ‘How warming affects Arctic sea ice and polar bears’]
Steven Amstrup

In short, it does not.

In 2007, polar bear specialist Steven Amstrup was almost single-handedly responsible for the failed survival model that got polar bears classified as ‘Threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the US. He has admitted that he retired from the US Geological Survey and sought employment with activist organization Polar Bears International (PBI) in 2012 because he wanted a bigger bullhorn for his predictions of polar bear catastrophe than was permitted under his role as a government scientist (Crockford 2019). Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to refute my analysis showing how and why he was wrong in his prediction – and resolutely refuses to concede his mistake (Crockford 2017, Crockford 2019; Crockford and Geist 2018).

He and his organization use naive and compliant media to present their propaganda as ‘news’. My impression about the role of PBI in promoting a particular agenda is corroborated not only by their mandate but in a revealing 2013 story in The Atlantic about PBI’s influence over media visiting Churchill, an excerpt of which is copied below [my bold]:

Because Polar Bears International operates in close partnership with a tour company in Churchill that owns the majority of the permits and vehicles needed to access the animals on the tundra, the group has been able to intercept most of the major media that come through town. They install biologists and climatologists on the reporters’ buggies like scientific press agents, trying to make sure an accurate narrative comes across, and they provide B-roll footage of bears plunging into melting slush to help newscasters illustrate the problem.

In past years, though, PBI had gone out of its way to help television crews only to feel betrayed by the finished product: the reporters ignore climate change altogether, or regurgitate the junk theories of climate change deniers. Most television crews are now asked to sign memorandums of understanding, outlining certain guidelines, before working with PBI. (As a rule, one PBI staffer told me, Robert [Buchanan, founder of PBI] regards all journalists as “pirates and thieves.”)

John Mooallem, The Atlantic, 26 May 2013: Martha Stewart and the Cannibal Polar Bears: A True Story

The first week of November is designated ‘Polar Bear Week’ by PBI and so I have come to expect that there will be more than the usual number of media offerings on the dire plight of the bears. This year is no exception. However, in this instance Amstrup has gone over the top in making claims that purport to support his dire predictions with no fact checking or challenge by the media.

Amstrup stated categorically last week that polar bears “in the 1980s” were doing extremely well: in other words, throughout the Arctic, for the entire decade – suggesting the 80s were the good old days for this species. However, I contend the scientific literature produced by his polar bear specialist colleagues does not support that claim.

Where polar bears were not doing well in the 1980s

  1. Western Hudson Bay, the subpopulation that continues to be used to predict the future of polar bears worldwide
  2. Chukchi Sea

There were only four subpopulations that are considered reasonably well-studied in the 1980s: only Western Hudson Bay and the Southern Beaufort had had population surveys done by that time, while some work on body condition and cub survival had also been done in the Barents and Chukchi Seas (Derocher 2005; Larsen 1985; Rode et al. 2014; Wiig et al. 1998). Limited data on litter size and reproductive success were available for some years in the 1980s for a few other areas (Derocher 1999; Obbard et al. 2007; Ramsay and Stirling 1988).

Western Hudson Bay

As I discuss in The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, poor body condition, lowered reproductive rates and much reduced cub survival was a hallmark of Western Hudson Bay polar bears in the 1980s and early 1990s. That was before declining sea ice was any kind of issue. However, it was also when polar bear numbers were higher than they’d been in perhaps a century or more and too many bears relative to the food supply was seen as the most likely explanation (Derocher 1991; Derocher and Stirling 1992, 1995; Ramsay and Stirling 1988; Stirling and Lunn 1997). Ian Stirling solved the problem of not really being able to explain this situation to his own satisfaction by embracing the concept of catastrophic man-made climate change and its assumed role in summer sea ice loss.

In the worst year, polar bear researchers Ian Stirling and Malcolm Ramsay emphasized that the mean weight of pregnant females they encountered in 1983 was 37kgs lighter than in other years (Ramsay and Stirling 1988:615). These authors stated:

...bears of all age and sex classes in the summer and autumn of 1983 appeared to us, at the time of capture, to be, on average, in poorer condition than at equivalent seasons in the years previous and subsequent. Some qualitative behavioural observations corroborated this view. During autumn, 1983, the town of Churchill recorded a larger number of bears feeding at its dump (Lunn & Stirling, 1985) than in the previous three years and a higher number of human-bear incidents than in any year of the previous decade. Three cubs-of-the-year were found abandoned by their mothers in autumn and near starvation, something seen in no other year.” [my bold]

In one extreme example, a female they encountered with three cubs-of-the year in November 1983 weighed only 99 kg (218 lb) but survived; by the following July she was pregnant again and weighed a remarkable 410 kg (904 lb), see photo below.

Overall, survival of cubs, litter sizes and body condition of pregnant polar bears in Western Hudson Bay declined during the 1980s over rates seen in the 60s and 70s, and then declined even more in the 1990s (which was blamed on global warming). Amstup and his colleagues are happy to tell people about the decline between the 1980s and 1990s while keeping silent on the previous decline. However, the evidence in their scientific papers cannot be denied: in Western Hudson Bay, the 1970s (not the 1980s) were the best years for polar bears.

Chukchi Sea

Recent studies have shown that Chukchi Sea polar bears are thriving by all measures used to assess individual and population heath: body condition has been better than it was in the late 1980s (when there was a shorter ice-free period) and females are reproducing well, with a number of triplet litters reported which before this time were rare anywhere outside Western Hudson Bay in the 1970s (see photo below of a litter of triplets about one year old in 2010: rarely do all three members of a triplet litter survive to this age) (Rode and Regehr 2010; Rode et al. 2014, 2018).

In addition, Chukchi Sea ringed and bearded seals – the primary prey of polar bears – were also found to be doing much better in the 2000s (up to 2013) than they were in the 1980s (Crawford et al. 2015), and preliminary data from on-going studies suggest this continues to be the case (Adam et al. 2019).

The documented observation that Chukchi Sea polar bears were doing better during the 2000s than they had been in the late 1980s indicates that they could not have been doing particularly well in the 1980s – certainly not as well as Amstrup’s statement suggests.

The Conundrum

Here is the problem: there is no doubt that summer sea ice coverage (extent) was high during the 1980s (relative to now, see graph below) and that polar bear population numbers by the late 1980s showed signs of recovery after decades of over-hunting. Restrictions on hunting imposed in the late 1960s and early 1970s meant more young males were allowed to grow into very large adults and the practice of killing females with cubs largely stopped. As a consequence, population sizes grew quickly.

The fact that the population size had increased up to and including the 1980s does not mean the extent of summer sea ice was a causative factor.

As I have pointed out previously, the thickness of sea ice and depth of snow over the ice during the spring is known to have a more pronounced influence on polar bear health and survival because it impacts their ability to catch as many seals as they require (Crockford 2017; 2019). What we don’t know is how much spring ice thickness and snow cover has varied over Hudson Bay and the Chukchi Sea – decade to decade – since the 1970s. However, it is possible that along with extensive summer ice in the 1980s, there was also thick spring ice and/or heavy snow over ice in both regions, which would account for the lower weights of bears and poorer reproductive success.

It is pertinent to know that early in his career, a young and impressionable Amstrup happened to be involved in capturing a bear from the Southern Beaufort in 1982 that weighed 1400 lb, shown below with its head in Amstrup’s lap. There is no doubt this was a very large bear that left a big impression and is perhaps the real origin of his claim that “males were huge”.

It is also true that the maximum weight of adult males captured in Foxe Basin in the 1970s and 1980s were similar to Amstrup’s big bear: about 1367 lb, with the average weight of males about 1200 lb (Derocher and Stirling 1998; Rode et al. 2014: Fig 5).

However, 1400 lb is far from the record, which belongs to a male weighing 2,209 lb (1,002 kg) shot in the southern portion of the Chukchi Sea subpopulation range in 1960.

In addition, Amstrup’s single 1400 lb bear was not much heavier than three adult males bears captured during the early years of the 2008-2013 survey of the Chukchi Sea (2008-2010), each of which weighed “over 1200 lbs” (Rode and Regehr 2010) and thus similar to those in the 70s and 80s from Foxe Basin.

Also, there have been some photos published recently of some truly big fat bears, including the one below from the Southern Beaufort (Kaktovik) the summer of 2019 whose weight we do not know (compare to the photo from WH in 1984 above):

Healthy polar bear male at Kaktovik, Alaska on the Southern Beaufort Sea, September 2019, Ed Boudreau photo, with permission.


There is strong evidence from at least two out of four well-studied populations that polar bears were not doing particularly well in the 1980s: certainly not as well as they had been doing before (Western Hudson Bay) or after (Chukchi Sea). It’s likely that other populations were also not doing especially well during the 1980s, especially Davis Strait bears which were still recovering from targeted over hunting and a lack of prey due to over-hunting of harp seals (Peacock et al. 2013). We don’t know for sure because the Davis Strait population was not assessed for the first time until the 1990s (Taylor and Lee; Taylor et al. 2006).

In other words, polar bear specialists didn’t know for sure exactly what body size and cub survival conditions were like for polar bears in many of the unstudied or poorly-studied regions of the Arctic in the 1980s – and for two out of the four for which they did have data the bears were not doing especially well. Therefore Amstrup’s statement last week that the 1980s were golden years for polar bears throughout their range was a falsehood he felt was necessary to promote his failed prediction that polar bears will be threatened with extinction by human-caused global warming at some time in the future.



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.

Crawford, J.A., Quakenbush, L.T. and Citta, J.J. 2015. A comparison of ringed and bearded seal diet, condition and productivity between historical (1975–1984) and recent (2003–2012) periods in the Alaskan Bering and Chukchi seas. Progress in Oceanography 136:133-150.

Crockford, S.J. 2017. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 19 January 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v1 Open access.

Crockford, S.J. 2019The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Crockford, S.J. and Geist, V. 2018. Conservation Fiasco. Range Magazine, Winter 2017/2018, pg. 26-27. Pdf here.

Derocher, A.E. 1991. Population dynamics and ecology of polar bears in western Hudson Bay. Ph.D. Thesis, Univ. Alberta, Edmonton.

Derocher, A.E. 1999. Latitudinal variation in litter size of polar bears: ecology or methodology? Polar Biology 22:350-356.

Derocher, A.E. 2005. Population ecology of polar bears at Svalbard, Norway. Population Ecology 47:267-275.

Derocher, A.E. and Stirling, I. 1992. The population dynamics of polar bears in western Hudson Bay. pg. 1150-1159 in D. R. McCullough and R. H. Barrett, eds. Wildlife 2001: Populations. Elsevier Sci. Publ., London, U.K.

Abstract. Reproductive output of polar bears in western Hudson Bay declined through the 1980’s from higher levels in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Age of first reproduction increased slightly and the rate of litter production declined from 0.45 to 0.35 litters/female/year over the study, indicating that the reproductive interval had increased. Recruitment of cubs to autumn decreased from 0.71 to 0.53 cubs/female/year. Cub mortality increased from the early to late 1980’s. Litter size did not show any significant trend or significant annual variation due to an increase in loss of the whole litter. Mean body weights of females with cubs in the spring and autumn declined significantly. Weights of cubs in the spring did not decline, although weights of both female and male cubs declined over the study. The population is approximately 60% female, possibly due to the sex-biased harvest. Although estimates of population size are not available from the whole period over which we have weight and reproductive data, the changes in reproduction, weight, and cub mortality are consistent with the predictions of a densitydependent response to increasing population size. [my bold]

Derocher, A.E. and Stirling, I. 1995. Temporal variation in reproduction and body mass of polar bears in western Hudson Bay. Canadian Journal of Zoology 73:1657-1665.

Derocher, A.E. and Stirling, I. 1998. Geographic variation in growth of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Journal of Zoology London 245: 65–72.

Larsen, T. 1985. Polar bear denning and cub production in Svalbard, Norway. Journal of Wildlife Management 49:320-326.

Obbard, M.E., McDonald, T.L., Howe, E.J., Regehr, E.V. and Richardson, E.S. 2007. Polar bear population status in southern Hudson Bay, Canada. Administrative Report, U.S. Department of the Interior- U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA.

Peacock, E., Taylor, M.K., Laake, J., and Stirling, I. 2013. Population ecology of polar bears in Davis Strait, Canada and Greenland. Journal of Wildlife Management 77:463–476.

Ramsay, M.A. and Stirling, I. 1988. Reproductive biology and ecology of female polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Journal of Zoology London 214:601-624.

Rode, K. and Regehr, E.V. 2010. Polar bear research in the Chukchi and Bering Seas: A synopsis of 2010 field work. Unpublished report to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, Anchorage. pdf here.

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.

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

Stirling, I. and Lunn, N.J. 1997. Environmental fluctuations in arctic marine ecosystems as reflected by variability in reproduction of polar bears and ringed seals. In Ecology of Arctic Environments, Woodin, S.J. and Marquiss, M. (eds), pg. 167-181. Blackwell Science, UK.

Taylor, M., and Lee, J. 1995. Distribution and abundance of Canadian polar bear populations: a management perspective. Arctic 48:147-154.

Taylor, M.K., Lee, J., Laake, J. and McLoughlin, P.D. 2006. Estimating population size of polar bears in Foxe Basin, Nunavut, using tetracycline biomarkers. Government of Nunavut, Department of Environment, Final Wildlife Report. Iqaluit.

Wiig, O. 1998. Survival and reproductive rates for polar bears at Svalbard. Ursus 10:25±32

5 10 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Pamela Matlack-Klein
November 10, 2021 3:06 am

Interesting how Amstrup and his group have formed such strong opinions on the condition of the bears. Despite all evidence to the contrary they continue to insist the bears are declining in numbers throughout their range. It takes a lot of determination to remain steadfast in one’s error in light of all the evidence of the bears thriving. They are true Climate Crusaders!

Reply to  Pamela Matlack-Klein
November 10, 2021 3:17 am

Give a man the chance to feel smart,superior and important
and he will reveal his real character.

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Pamela Matlack-Klein
November 10, 2021 3:51 am

I think that Upton Sinclair applies in this case.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

Amstrup’s salary and whole reason for living depends on there being a declining and threatened Polar Bear population. I’m inclined to think that he genuinely believes what he claims is happening.

Reply to  Ben Vorlich
November 10, 2021 6:37 am

People like him need victims(animal or human) to maintain power and control. They have no morals and no conscience. You cannot cut them any slack, they need to be crushed.

Reply to  Ben Vorlich
November 10, 2021 7:53 am

”…salary depends…”. So true of all climagendists….

Reply to  Pamela Matlack-Klein
November 10, 2021 4:34 am

the condition of the bears

The dark green fraternity tends to go for feelings over everything else

“How is it possible for you to be so easily tricked by something so simple as a story, because you are tricked? Well, it all comes down to one core thing and that is emotional investment. The more emotionally invested you are in anything in your life, the less critical and the less objectively observant you become.” — David JP Phillips, We Don’t Have Time board of directors, “The Magical Science of Storytelling”

Reply to  Pamela Matlack-Klein
November 10, 2021 10:09 pm

Steve was always good at memorization in school, but failed in the sciences that required any analytical skills. He needs to enlist a promoter anytime he spouts off, since his views are unlikely to be correct on any subject.

Reply to  Pamela Matlack-Klein
November 12, 2021 10:16 am

Despite all evidence to the contrary they continue to insist the bears are declining in numbers throughout their range.”

Among many branches of our Federal government it is a cardinal sin to ever admit error or worse apologize. A concept they got from John Wayne movies.

No matter how egregious the error, Federal employees ignore all aspects and repercussions of the error while claiming themselves to be absolutely correct, just unproven or unrecognized by the public.

Because Polar Bears International operates in close partnership with a tour company in Churchill that owns the majority of the permits and vehicles needed to access the animals on the tundra, the group has been able to intercept most of the major media that come through town. They install biologists and climatologists on the reporters’ buggies like scientific press agents, trying to make sure an accurate narrative comes across, and they provide B-roll footage of bears plunging into melting slush to help newscasters illustrate the problem.”

Throttling news coverage and forcing PBI personal opinions upon researchers, reporters and journalists illustrates how desperate and corrupt they are.

Amstrup’s message is that accurate news is evil news, tells all what his research is about.

May the fear of accurate reporting gnaw their vitals.
PBI and those researchers allied with Amstrup should be stripped of their grants.

Ron Long
November 10, 2021 4:18 am

What we are seeing on a daily basis (peaking now with COPOUT 26) is the weaponization of anything that can be spun into the “Climate Change We’re All Going To Die Unless You Give Me Your Money” Theme.

November 10, 2021 5:00 am

Most television crews are now asked to sign memorandums of understanding, outlining certain guidelines, before working with PBI.” No need to go further than that, not scientists just propagandists pushing a leftist political agenda.

November 10, 2021 5:01 am

Well, PBI has certainly taken on the trappings of a political dictatorship with their carefully choreographed media visits, and now actually exerting direct control over the content of media reports.

You can always tell how persuasive a given argument is about anything in life – if your argument speaks for itself, it’s a valid and serious argument … but if you have to manipulate communications and control content, then obviously your argument isn’t very persuasive or valid.

Per the Bard of Avon: “Thou dost protest too much.”

Reply to  Duane
November 10, 2021 7:36 am

Leftists always have to resort to regulation & enforcement of their policies, because appealing / persuasive/ beneficial presentations can’t be made.

Alan the Brit
November 10, 2021 5:18 am

Oh dear, I’m very frightened, just had Arch Warmunista BBC’s Roger Harrabin psuedo-scientific correspondent, reporting from Crap 26 in Glasgow, that we are suffering from a “relentless” ongoing rise in global temperatures. Funny thing though, he like so many others of his ilk, never actually seem to tell us just how much of this “relentless” warming there has been, I feel certain that the warmunistas would have screamed such rises from the highest places in the land, yet they haven’t!!! How strange!!! Yet ever more bovine faeces presented to the masses from the Taxpayer funded BBC, impartiality? They wouldn’t even know how to spell it!!!

Reply to  Alan the Brit
November 10, 2021 5:47 am

Argh, the unholy trinity Harrabin, Rowlatt and McGrath

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Alan the Brit
November 10, 2021 12:21 pm

the Taxpayer funded BBC

I’m not sure how much funding comes from general taxation, but I believe that most of their funding comes from the TV licensing. That, at least, you have the choice to not pay. More people should so choose, even if just to send a message.

Last edited 2 months ago by Zig Zag Wanderer
Alan the Brit
Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
November 11, 2021 4:03 am

It all comes from the taxpayer in the end, one way or another. The chief supporter of the Remain campaign was the BBC, as they like every other state broadcaster within the EU, received £ millions every year essentially to promote the EU at every opportunity, the Beeb has lost that money I believe, so I expect to see a renewed clamour for an increase in the Licence Fee before too long!!!

November 10, 2021 5:47 am

How did Biden put it:

We prefer truth over facts.

November 10, 2021 6:53 am

according to Polarbearscience, the major threat to polar bears was hunting, banned first by Russia in 1956 then by international treaty in 1973.

So it is likely polar bears flourished in the 80s, as a result of the ending of hunting pressure.

Russia the first to ban polar bear hunting in 1956, not a surprise why | polarbearscience

Richard Page
Reply to  griff
November 10, 2021 7:25 am

Also Norway introduced severe restrictions on hunting in 1970, leading to increases in Polar Bear numbers. Polar Bears move around a great deal – increases in Russian Polar Bear numbers would see more bears moving into Norwegian and Canadian waters so yes, Griffy – the 60’s through to the early 80’s may well have seen huge growth in Polar Bear numbers. However, the Polar Bears food source, seals, have not been so fortunate. There has been no ban on hunting seals for most of that time – Europe banned seal products in 1983 and Russia banned seal hunting in 2009, which was then extended internationally. Prior to those bans, seals were hunted in the Arctic quite extensively, leading to a drastic decline in their populations. So, if you have a booming Polar Bear population and a crashing food source you will get a very big problem – you have a starving Polar Bear population whose numbers will start to decline again. Don’t just look at one piece of information in isolation, Griffy, that’s blinkered vision, try to look at the whole.

Last edited 2 months ago by Richard Page
Reply to  Richard Page
November 10, 2021 7:41 am

Richard, you just posed “Mission Impossible” for old mate Griff. 🤣

Reply to  griff
November 10, 2021 7:35 am

you just can’t accept ANYTHING that isn’t spewed by the high priests of your “green” religion can you?

Reply to  griff
November 10, 2021 8:09 am

“Likely” contradict facts and research results, so why will you tell us about “likely” ??

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  griff
November 10, 2021 12:23 pm

How can that be, griif? The only threat to polar bears, and indeed anything, is Global Warming ™, Shirley?

Reply to  griff
November 10, 2021 4:54 pm

Wait there are polar bears left?
I was told they would be gone along with the ice.

Last edited 2 months ago by LdB
Reply to  griff
November 10, 2021 9:22 pm

That is nice, but you didn’t understand the main point of the article since you didn’t address it.

November 10, 2021 9:48 am

How the decline in Polar bears narrative can be kept alive is a testament to the control of the media over our news.

very old white guy
November 11, 2021 4:04 am

The population continues to increase??????

November 11, 2021 11:04 pm

Ask Amstrup how many polar bears he has killed due to tranquilization followed by drowning. He’s a charlatan.

%d bloggers like this: