Ten years ago, polar bears were classified as an endangered species due to model-based assumptions that said the recession of Arctic sea ice would hamper the bears’ seal-hunting capabilities and ultimately lead to starvation and extinction.
The Inuit, who have observed these bears catch seals in open water for generations, disagree. At least this is what scientists have found upon investigation.
“There is no evidence that the fast reduction of sea-ice habitat in the area has yet led to a reduction in population size.” (Aars et al., 2017 )
Inuit observations: “…back in early 80s, and mid 90s, there were hardly any bears … there’s too many polar bears now. Bears can catch seals even—even if the—if the ice is really thin… they’re great hunters those bears … they’re really smart … they know how to survive.” (Wong et al., 2017)
Inuit observations: “No, because polar bears can go and follow the seals further [if sea ice retreats], so they won’t have trouble hunting. Also the snow covers the [seals’] breathing holes but polar bears can still hunt, it’s just for people. There is more rough ice, more thin ice. But it won’t affect polar bears’ hunting.” (Dowsley, 2007)
“Reduction in the heavy multiyear ice and increased productivity from a longer open water season may even enhance polar bear habitat in some areas. … It seems unlikely that polar bears (as a species) are at risk from anthropogenic global warming.” (York et al., 2016)
Sometimes the “Western scientific understanding” of how the natural world operates conflicts with observations.
“The view of polar bears as effective open-water hunters is not consistent with the Western scientific understanding that bears rely on the sea ice platform for catching prey. … [Participants] indicated that polar bear body condition is stable; they cited the fact that polar bears are capable of hunting seals in open water as a factor contributing to the stable body condition of the bears.” (Laforest et al., 2018).
The paleoclimate evidence, which shows that sea ice was thinner and less extensive than today for most of the last 10,000 years, also contradicts the assumptions about modern polar bear endangerment due to thinning ice. One must ask: How did polar bears survive sea ice free summers in the ancient past if they existentially rely on thick sea ice to hunt prey today?
When the observations don’t agree with the models and assumptions, real scientists are supposed to reconsider their hypotheses.
In the 3 new papers referenced below, extensive observational evidence suggests that polar bear populations are currently healthier than in the past, and their numbers have been stable or growing in recent decades.
(LINK to read the papers)