A ‘mass exodus’ of polar bears from Alaska to Russia has taken place, local residents claim

From Polar Bear Science

Dr. Susan Crockford

An article in a UK newspaper yesterday contains a claim made by local residents that polar bears which used to hang around Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow) in western Alaska, are ‘moving to Russia’ (i.e. the Chukchi Sea) in a ‘mass exodus’. It’s certainly possible but if so, it should come as a surprise to no one and is good news for polar bears.

If the allegation is upheld by scientific evidence, polar bears will not have been pushed out of Alaska by lack of summer sea ice (i.e. ‘forced to migrate’) but rather pulled into the Chukchi Sea by abundant food resources that did not exist when summer ice cover was more extensive. It’s a big difference and it speaks to the benefits of less summer sea ice that no one wants to discuss.

Moreover, moving temporarily to where conditions suit them best is what polar bears do all the time: it’s not a new phenomenon, it’s a prominent feature of their biology (Crockford 2019).

Chukchi Sea vs. Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear subpopulation boundaries, from Amstrup et al. 2005.

The article in question appeared yesterday in the UK Daily Telegraph (1 Jan 2020), “Polar bears forced to migrate from America to Russia because of climate change”. The piece oddly conflates a record high temperature on Boxing Day 2021 in Kodiak (located in the Gulf of Alaska, which is nowhere near the Beaufort Sea and well south of polar bear territory) with lack of summer sea ice much further north [my bold]:

After two days driving through thick snow on America’s most northerly tip, we had seen no sign of polar bears. The beasts, locals warned, are moving to Russia

“It wasn’t always like this,” said Herman Ahsoak, a whaling captain from Utqiagvik, Alaska, who was acting as a guide.

“Back in the late 1990s there were 127 here. I had never seen so many in my life. We had a dedicated patrol team to keep watch and protect the town.

“But when the sea ice really started to retreat, we stopped seeing them so often. I’m sure there is still a healthy population, but they have mostly moved on from here.”

In this part of America, where the average annual temperature has risen by 4.8°C in the last 50 years, one of the most visible signs of global warming is the mass exodus of polar bears.

Global warming has caused sea ice to melt, depriving bears of their homes and hunting grounds…

The problem is immediate: On Boxing Day, temperatures soared to a record 19.4C on the island of Kodiak – the highest December reading ever recorded in Alaska.

Polar bears, with their 42 razor sharp teeth, paws the size of dinner plates and 4 inches of fat under their black skin and white fur are some of the most resilient mammals on the planet. But scientists believe that climate change has driven them away.

Far to the west, on Russia’s Wrangel Island in the neighbouring Chukchi sea, the population has grown significantly, with scientists counting a record 747 bears in 2020, up from 589 in 2017.

The overall number of polar bears in the Chukchi sea has ballooned to 3,000 and they are described as being “in better condition, larger, and appeared to have higher reproductive rates than bears inhabiting the southern Beaufort Sea,” by Dr Karyn Rode, from the Alaska Science Centre.

“What is portrayed in the press and what is promoted by environmental groups creates a lot of stress because it is not an accurate picture,” said Dr Robert Suydam, a senior wildlife biologist for the North Slope Borough, in Utqiagvik.

“So frequently they are estimating that the populations in the Beaufort Sea have declined substantially but they are not taking into account how many bears have moved to other areas.

“Without a doubt, polar bears are struggling and will struggle with the change in ice. They have to adapt and they are. But unfortunately, some of these groups that are promoting that bears are in trouble aren’t giving the bears enough credit for how they can adjust to the change in environment.”

Because the Chukchi waters off Russia are so rich with food, polar bears appear to need less time on the ice.

“Bears can withstand having a shorter time out on the sea ice each year because when they are on the ice, there are plenty of seals to go around to recoup those losses to a point,” said Eric Regehr, a former biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service who now works at the University of Washington.

At issue here is the claimed ‘mass exodus’ of bears.

In fact, it’s been known for decades that most of the bears that visit Utqiagvik really belong to the Chukchi Sea subpopulation: virtually all of these visitors have always been Russian bears, not Alaskan (see below from Amstrup et al. 2005; see also Amstrup et al 2001).

Capture locations of Chukchi and Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, from Amstrup et al. 2005.

In fact, movement of bears into and out of the Southern Beaufort at both ends has confounded efforts to get an accurate population size estimate (AC SWG 2018; Atwood et al. 2020; Bromaghin et al. 2015; Conn et al. 2021; Rehehr et al. 2018).

Moreover, very few Southern Beaufort or Chukchi Sea bears ever come to land at all: these are subpopulations where most bears remain on the sea ice year-round (Crockford 2018, 2019; Rode et al. 2015).

And while these folks blame lack of sea ice in the Southern Beaufort for driving the bears away, the author of the piece neglects to explicitly state the obvious alternative explanation (although he alludes to it): that abundant food in the Chukchi Sea in recent years caused by greater primary productivity during the longer ice-free seasons has made ice over Russian waters a more attractive place to live for polar bears (Frey et al. 2021; Rode et al. 2014, 2018).

It’s the back-handed way of presenting one of the great benefits of reduced summer sea ice in the Arctic that’s blamed on ‘climate change’ (Crockford 2021). Get used to it: this is something we will likely be seeing more of in the next few years as the predicted summer sea ice ‘decline’ remains stalled (see graph below from Meier et al. 2021).

If it’s indeed true that Chukchi Sea polar bears now seldom visit the area around Point Barrow because the bears have moved to Russia (which is not, by the way, mentioned by biologists in scientific papers as an explanation for the apparent decline in polar bears in the Southern Beaufort or the apparent increase in Chukchi Sea numbers), this resilience to changing conditions would be very much like the situation in the Barents Sea on the other side of the Arctic.

As I’ve discussed previously (with references), the many pregnant polar bear females that used to give birth in the Svalbard archipelago (managed by Norway) have largely shifted east to make their maternity dens on the sea ice or the islands around Franz Josef Land in Russia. However, those that have remained loyal to Norwegian waters are not struggling, but are thriving (Aars et al. 2017).

Quite simply, this flexibility in response to changing conditions in the Arctic has allowed the polar bear to be an evolutionarily successful species and not a symptom of climate change victimhood.

References

Aars, J., Marques,T.A, Lone, K., Anderson, M., Wiig, Ø., Fløystad, I.M.B., Hagen, S.B. and Buckland, S.T. 2017. The number and distribution of polar bears in the western Barents Sea. Polar Research 36:1. 1374125. doi:10.1080/17518369.2017.1374125

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. https://www.fws.gov/alaska/fisheries/mmm/polarbear/bilateral.htm pdf here.

Amstrup, S. C., McDonald, T. L. and Stirling, I. 2001. Polar bears in the Beaufort Sea: A 30-year mark-recapture case history. Journal of Agricultural, Biological, and Environmental Statistics 6:221-234. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1198/108571101750524562

Amstrup, S.C., Durner, G. M., Stirling, I. and McDonald, T. L. 2005. Allocating harvests among polar bear stocks in the Beaufort Sea. Arctic 58:247-259. http://arctic.journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/arctic/index.php/arctic/article/view/426
Pdf here.

Atwood, T.C., Bromaghin, J.F., Patil, V.P., Durner, G.M., Douglas, D.C., and Simac, K.S., 2020. Analyses on subpopulation abundance and annual number of maternal dens for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in the southern Beaufort Sea, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2020-1087. https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20201087. pdf here.

Bromaghin, J.F., McDonald, T.L., Stirling, I., Derocher, A.E., Richardson, E.S., Rehehr, E.V., et al. 2015. Polar bear population dynamics in the southern Beaufort Sea during a period of sea ice decline. Ecological Applications 25:634–651.

Conn, P.B., Chernook, V.I., Moreland, E.E., Trukhanova, I.S., Regehr, E.V., Vasiliev, A.N., Wilson, R.R., Belikov, S.E. and Boveng, P.L. 2021. Aerial survey estimates of polar bears and their tracks in the Chukchi Sea. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0251130. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0251130 OPEN ACCESS video: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0251130.s003

Crockford, S.J. 2018. State of the Polar Bear Report 2017. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report #29. London. pdf here.

Crockford, S.J. 2019The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Available in paperback and ebook formats. Crockford, S.J. 2020. State of the Polar Bear Report 2019. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 39, London. pdf here.

Crockford, S.J. 2021. The State of the Polar Bear Report 2020. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 48, London. pdf here.

Frey, K.E., Comiso, J.C., Cooper, L.W., Grebmeier, J.M. and Stock, L.V. 2021. Arctic Ocean primary productivity: the response of marine algae to climate warming and sea ice decline. 2021 NOAA Arctic Report CardDOI: 10.25923/kxhb-dw16

Meier, W.N. et al. 2021. Sea ice. 2021 NOAA Arctic Report CardDOI: 10.25923/y2wd-fn85

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

Rode, K.D., Wilson, R.R., Regehr, E.V., St. Martin, M., Douglas, D.C. & Olson, J. 2015. Increased land use by Chukchi Sea polar bears in relation to changing sea ice conditions. PLoS One 10 e0142213.

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John Tillman
January 2, 2022 6:05 pm

Polar bears are far more intelligent than adherents to the Church of “Climate Change” (TM).

commieBob
Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2022 9:05 pm

It’s extraordinarily difficult to teach a polar bear to solve even a rudimentary Sudoku, a task easily mastered by most adherents to the Church of “Climate Change”. No, the problem is not a lack of intelligence per se.

Their problem is that they literally not in their right mind. Their ‘superior’ education allows them to be removed from reality in a manner that closely mimics schizophrenia.

Joao Martins
Reply to  commieBob
January 3, 2022 6:22 am

No, the problem is not a lack of intelligence

Perhaps it is an excess of stupidity?…

John Tillman
Reply to  commieBob
January 3, 2022 7:23 am

OK, the bears are saner, then.

To bed B
Reply to  commieBob
January 4, 2022 10:30 am

I find that they look at you more than the puzzle. The drooling is disconcerting.

Vuk
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2022 2:43 am

Most animals have a sixth sense that we humans have abandon in our desire to set ourselves at the top of pyramid.
Polar bears are sensing that Biden is on the way out as the Times is reporting:
Hard-left Democrats plot to unseat ‘failing’ Joe Biden
Joe Biden faces the prospect of a primary challenge from the left wing of the Democratic Party amid unrest over his age, poll ratings and failure to push through his legislative agenda.”
Looks like that Putin’s Russia might be preferable to the USA’s the Squad

Anon
Reply to  Vuk
January 3, 2022 8:12 am

If you develop that thesis a little more and connect Putin to the polar bear migration as an attempt to damage Alaska’s economy you could get published in the New York Times. (lol)

Tom Schaefer
Reply to  Vuk
January 4, 2022 11:01 am
Sara
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2022 5:16 am

So polar bears are considerably smarter than the desk jockey sci/fi guys reporting them (with no real understanding of them) and Ms. Crockford makes the sci/fi guys look silly, with help from the polar bears.

Obviously, polar bears are far smarter than the sci/fi guys and don’t need grants money to support themselves in warm, heated offices.

Well, really, if my local grocery store closed up (perish the though!), it’s obvious that I’d have to go elsewhere to forage for food, isn’t it? So that makes me (and you) and the bears smarter than the sci/fi guys (who never forage), doesn’t it?

Ever wonder what will happen with the sci/fi peeps when there’s nothing on the store shelves? Inquiring bears want to know!!!!!

Last edited 19 days ago by Sara
2hotel9
January 2, 2022 6:14 pm

Okely dokely. And when they are done hunting, eating, fighting and f**king they will go back to their “homes”. How is this unusual or unique?

Joao Martins
Reply to  2hotel9
January 3, 2022 6:24 am

And when they are done hunting, eating, fighting and f**king they will go back to their “homes”

No. Their “ambition” (as they say here in Europe) is to go farther south… They heard stories about how tasty penguins are…

2hotel9
Reply to  Joao Martins
January 3, 2022 6:32 am

Penguin kebobs! Mmmmm.

John Tillman
Reply to  Joao Martins
January 3, 2022 7:24 am

Penguins taste like fish.

TEWS_Pilot
January 2, 2022 6:20 pm

More of the “Biden” effect…even the Polar Bears know what a disaster Gropin’ Quid Pro Joe Bidet is turning the once magnificent United States into and they are getting out before the disaster reaches Alaska.

Tom Halla
January 2, 2022 6:22 pm

So the polies are not tied to any one place? Adaptive behavior by predators seems to surprise advocates.

Duane
January 2, 2022 6:36 pm

Given that polar bears and their fossil remains have existed and been found since at least 400 thousand years before the beginning of the Pleistocene, that means they have existed and apparently thrived in an inhospitable part of the planet through at least 26 glaciations and interglacials. If that isn’t highly adaptable to vast changes in ice extents and thicknesses, how else could that possibly be defined? Polar bears are at least as adaptable as any of the species in the genus Homo, probably more so.

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Duane
January 2, 2022 7:07 pm

They may have been around for 400,000 years, but one extra molecule of CO2 in 10,000 will wipe them all out!

Sara
Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
January 3, 2022 5:19 am

Zig, you’re supposed to put a {sarc} tag on that kind of thing.

Last edited 19 days ago by Sara
John Tillman
Reply to  Duane
January 3, 2022 7:30 am

Four hundred thousand years before the Pleistocene was in the Pliocene, when there were no polar bears. However, they might have existed 400,000 years before the Holocene, but IMO, they’re more recent than that. In any case, your point is valid even if the only prior interglacial they survived was the Eemian, ie ~130 to 114 Ka. The oldest known fossil is from Svalbard, dating to 130-110 Ka. But their present dentition is a more recent development, evolving from 20 to 10 Ka.

Duane
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2022 1:06 pm

The oldest recorded polar bear fossils found to date to 3 MYA, which is 400KYA before the Pleistocene began.

Reply to  Duane
January 5, 2022 8:22 am

Whoa. That’s a big update. Can you cite? Last I saw, the start of the polar bear had been pushed back from 400,000 years ago to 800,000 years ago.

Yossarian
January 2, 2022 6:36 pm

Let’s go, Brandon!

January 2, 2022 7:08 pm

Who cares? You couldn’t pay me to live in the Arctic…terrible place.

Brad
January 2, 2022 7:29 pm

What, these guys are moving between countries without passports??? We’re they even checked for covid passports???
Are there records for anchor babies? Maybe dual citizenship?🤣🤣🤣

n.n
Reply to  Brad
January 2, 2022 7:57 pm

Do they meet Diversity, Inequity, and Exclussion (DIE) quotas? Bears of black, of brown? Seriously, white privilege.

That said, donate to World Walrus Foundation (WWF), a joint project of walruses and seals. Bear Lives Matter (BLM)? #MeToo

Scissor
Reply to  Brad
January 3, 2022 4:59 am

No bear is illegal.

Stephen Skinner
Reply to  Scissor
January 3, 2022 8:25 am

Bear Lives Matter

Trying to Play Nice
Reply to  Brad
January 3, 2022 1:18 pm

Did they have their vaccination cards?

n.n
January 2, 2022 8:00 pm

Migration, unprecedented. Reversible. Renewable. Follow the food, again, and again, and again. It’s a diet. #NoJudgment #NoLabels

Last edited 19 days ago by n.n
commieBob
January 2, 2022 8:56 pm

The organization that employed me had a polar bear safety course. One of the lessons was that polar bears travel great distances and can be found where you would not expect them, like in the middle of the Victoria and Albert mountains.

Apparently polar bear travel is deliberate. ie. it’s not just random. link

Anyway, given that the eastern boundary of the Chukchi Sea is Alaska, it’s not a surprising journey for polar bears. And, if you tell me that they know, somehow, that there’s abundant food a few hundred miles away, I will also not be surprised by that.

Sara
Reply to  commieBob
January 3, 2022 5:21 am

Bears have very sensitive noses. They can smell food from a great distance. It’s the reason they visit those Snowcat tourist trollies: there’s FOOD in there!!! They just can’t get at it. 😛

Last edited 19 days ago by Sara
John Tillman
Reply to  Sara
January 3, 2022 7:36 am

Their olfactory sense puts dogs to shame. They can smell a ringed seal lair under its snow cover on shorefast ice from a mile away.

Ringed seal pups are essential to polar bear survival, but there is no shortage of Arctic shorefast ice in the spring whelping season, so ringed seals are abundant. Sow bears with cubs are starving when they emerge from their winter dens.

Sara
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2022 9:34 am

Never ever go looking for polar bears when you have just had a very fresh bowl of buttered popcorn. They will smell only the butter and try to find out where you are hiding it.

yirgach
Reply to  Sara
January 3, 2022 8:37 am

That’s cause the humans who live outside the tourist trollies taste like fish, while those inside taste like chicken. Where’s that can opener, Ma?

Rod Evans
January 2, 2022 10:55 pm

Just add it to the list of climate change impacting everything.
More Polar bears in a region that’s climate change.
Less Polar bears in a region, that’s climate change.
Imagine a world without climate change? Nothing would ever change would it?

Beagle
Reply to  Rod Evans
January 3, 2022 2:03 am

If nothing ever changed we would all be dead. It’s change that keeps life going.

roaddog
January 2, 2022 11:06 pm

It’s unfortunate that humans are not as adaptable.

griff
January 3, 2022 1:01 am

In response to ‘changing conditions in the Arctic‘….

That’s the issue, right there: the rapidly changing conditions in the Arctic.

Reply to  griff
January 3, 2022 1:08 am

Yes, and in booth directions 😀

Scissor
Reply to  griff
January 3, 2022 5:05 am

Always has changed, always will. Eventually the sun turns into a red giant and well before that one might ask, what difference does it make?

Joao Martins
Reply to  griff
January 3, 2022 6:29 am

That’s the issue, right there: the rapidly changing conditions in the Arctic.

Is the “Arctic” that region immediately below your skullcap, griff?…

Sunsettommy(@sunsetmpoutlookcom)
Editor
Reply to  griff
January 3, 2022 6:44 am

With no evidence that Polar Bears are suffering from it as you well know since YOU didn’t post evidence of any.

You offer nothing of substance as usual, when will you go beyond a dead statement?

Texas John
January 3, 2022 3:02 am

Shouldn’t first date mentioned about UK article be 2022 not 2020 since sentence refers to “article yesterday” and Boxing Day 2021?

Dennis G Field
January 3, 2022 3:04 am

I am seeing TV ads lately of the WWF begging for donations. Adopt a Polar Bear. And the ad show a mother bear with a cuddly cub.

YallaYPoora Kid
Reply to  Dennis G Field
January 3, 2022 4:50 am

WWF are parasites on human emotions, they are incapable of legitimately convincing the punters to sponsor their supposed cause but rather use emotional and often fake images to badger the gullible for money. The worst kind of fake environmentalists.

Last edited 19 days ago by YallaYPoora Kid
Sara
Reply to  Dennis G Field
January 3, 2022 5:23 am

They have a brief clip of murder hornets on a flowerhead in their video ad. They are disgusting.

Reply to  Dennis G Field
January 5, 2022 8:28 am

I saw that ad. See my extended though as a new comment at the top.

Last edited 16 days ago by windlord-sun
saveenergy
January 3, 2022 4:34 am

Nothing to do with abundant food in the Chukchi Sea !
Polar bears are now so fed up with western values (& the WWF using them to make a pack of cash ), they are turning to the east & communism … by traveling west.

January 3, 2022 4:45 am

the longer ice-free seasons has made ice over Russian waters a more attractive place to live for polar bears

Party time in Russia guys, let’s swim over and join the feast.

Reply to  Philip Mulholland.
January 3, 2022 9:27 am

There is a video about the nomad lives of natives in Siberia who follow the reindeer herds in the tundra…..people entirely dependent on animals. I would advise them to migrate to Moscow.

Doug
January 3, 2022 5:02 am

They remind me of the smarter residents of California

Peter W
Reply to  Doug
January 3, 2022 5:59 am

Perhaps you should have said “former residents?”

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
January 3, 2022 5:07 am

Yup. And people in California and New York are going extinct because of climate change. What else could possibly explain the loss of population?

Bruce Cobb
January 3, 2022 5:24 am

They can run from the Climate Boogie, but they can’t hide.

Bruce Cobb
January 3, 2022 5:36 am

Ah, so now it’s “environment change”. Hey, here’s an idea: just call it “the change”, that way all bases are covered.

Jesse Fell
January 3, 2022 5:56 am

But won’t the ‘’more attractive place to live’’ afforded by Russia ice disappear as the Russian ice melts?

D. J. Hawkins
January 3, 2022 6:03 am

That is one impressive bruin in the picture at the head of the post! Maybe he’s smaller than he/she appears, but I’ll stay in the Sno’Cat, thanks.

Mickey Reno
January 3, 2022 6:10 am

The bears are sick of American woke culture and climate whiners. No wonder they’re choosing Putin-land.

Neo
January 3, 2022 6:32 am

I seem to recall that the North Pole has been going in the same direction.

John Tillman
Reply to  Neo
January 3, 2022 7:43 am

In 2020, the NMP crossed the International Dateline. Siberia is winning the tug of war game with the Canadian Arctic.

John VC(@jvcstone)
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2022 8:58 am

Obvious in which direction the future lies

niceguy
January 3, 2022 10:41 am

What evil plan is Putin enacting?
Is that proof Ukraine is about to be invaded?
Will polar bears attack democratic euromaidans?

January 5, 2022 8:29 am

I have a hypothesis that the bear is embedded in the emotional euphoria collective ethic of humanity because of Coca-Cola suturing it to their product. The sugar rush and caffeine high combo is a trigger now. To say anything adverse — or even neutral — about the bear sets off flight/flight in people on a brain chemistry level.

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