(See a Christmas Conversation from 2014)
This may come as a shocker to some, but scientists are not always right — especially when under intense public pressure for answers.
Researchers with the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) recently admitted to experienced zoologist and polar bear specialist Susan Crockford that the estimate given for the total number of polar bars in the Arctic was “simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand.”
Crockford has been critical of official polar bear population estimates because they fail to include five large subpopulations of polar bears. Due to the uncertainty of the populations in these areas, PBSG did not include them in their official estimate — but the polar bear group did include other subpopulation estimates.
PBSG has for years said that global polar bear populations were between 20,000 and 25,000, but these estimates are likely much lower than how many polar bears are actually living in the world.
“Based on previous PBSG estimates and other research reports, it appears there are probably at least another 6,000 or so bears living in these regions and perhaps as many as 9,000 (or more) that are not included in any PBSG ‘global population estimate,’” Crockford wrote on her blog.
PBSG disclosed this information to Crockford ahead of the release of their Circumpolar Polar Bear Action Plan in which they intend to put a footnote explaining why their global population estimate is flawed.
“As part of past status reports, the PBSG has traditionally estimated a range for the total number of polar bears in the circumpolar Arctic,” PBSG says in its proposed footnote. “Since 2005, this range has been 20-25,000. It is important to realize that this range never has been an estimate of total abundance in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand.”
“It is also important to note that even though we have scientifically valid estimates for a majority of the subpopulations, some are dated,” PBSG continues. “Furthermore, there are no abundance estimates for the Arctic Basin, East Greenland, and the Russian subpopulations.”
“Consequently, there is either no, or only rudimentary, knowledge to support guesses about the possible abundance of polar bears in approximately half the areas they occupy,” says PBSG. “Thus, the range given for total global population should be viewed with great caution as it cannot be used to assess population trend over the long term.”
PBSG’s admission also comes after academics and government regulators have touted their polar bear population estimates to show that polar bear numbers have grown since the 1960s. PBSG estimates have also been used to show that polar bear populations have stabilized over the last 30 years.
Polar bear populations became the centerpiece of the effort to fight global warming due to claims that melting polar ice caps would cause the bears to become endangered in the near future. Years ago, some scientists predicted the Arctic would be virtually ice free by now.
Polar bears became the first species listed under the Endangered Species Act because they could potentially be harmed by global warming. But some recent studies have found that some polar bear subpopulations have actually flourished in recent years.
“So, the global estimates were… ‘simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand’ and according to this statement, were never meant to be considered scientific estimates, despite what they were called, the scientific group that issued them, and how they were used,” Crockford said….
A polar-bear expert (researcher and zoologist) refutes FactCheck.org’s article continuing to tell the lie that polar bears are endangered. The article is titled over at Climate Depot as, “Polar Bear Expert refutes warmist Factcheck.org’s claims on on polar bears.” The actual article title is: Challenging Alaska polar bear research sound bites and bewildering ESA status.
It’s easy to take polar bear research papers at face value but it’s not very scientific. The snappy sound bites provided for the benefit of the media – whether they’re embedded in press releases or in published abstracts – don’t cut it with trained scientists. Trained scientists read the whole report, critically examine the evidence it contains and assess that evidence within the context of previous knowledge. That’s what they are trained to do.
I challenge the superficial summary on the status of Alaskan polar bear populations provided by FactCheck.org journalist Vanessa Schipani. Schipani disputed a comment made by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski that, according to the latest research Alaskan polar bear population numbers are strong and healthy. I’m not especially interested in the political context of the statement, only Schipani’s bald claim that Murkowski’s declaration is false.
Insisting that because the ESA and the IUCN Red List consider polar bears threatened with extinction means polar bear populations currently must be population deficient is false and misleading – the statuses of ‘threatened’ and ‘vulnerable’ for polar bears are based on concerns of possible future declines only.
It is factually correct to say that present populations of polar bears in Alaska are healthy. Scientific studies on polar bears – when all of the data is taken into account and considered in the context of all research on these bears – indicates this statement is true.
All of the evidence suggests Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears have recovered from a known and predictable decline in numbers in the mid-2000s due to natural causes – designating “critical habitat” along the Alaska coast will not protect the bears from repeats of this natural hazard in the future – and Chukchi Sea bears have all the indicators of a stable or increasing population. Those are the scientific facts.
(read it all if you dare!)
Here are 5 or the 10 failed predictions regarding Polar Bears via What’s Up With That?
Prediction 1. Western Hudson Bay (WHB) polar bear numbers will continue to declinebeyond 2004 due to ever-earlier breakup and ever-later freeze-up of sea ice.
FAIL – An aerial survey conducted by Seth Stapleton and colleagues (2014) in 2011 produced an estimate of about 1030 bears and their report stated:
“This figure is similar to a 2004 mark–recapture estimate but higher than projections indicating declining abundance since then.”
This 1030 figure is the one being used by the IUCN PBSG and Environment Canada for WHB, as a limited mark-recapture studyconducted the same year (Lunn and colleagues 2014) did not survey the entire WHB region and therefore not comparable to the 2004 count.
Prediction 2. Breakup of sea ice in Western Hudson Bay (WHB) will come progressively earlier and freeze-up dates progressively later (after 1999), as CO2 levels from burning fossil fuel increase global temperatures.
FAIL – Researchers Nick Lunn and colleagues (2014) determined thatthere has been no trend in breakup or freeze-up dates between 2001 and 2010. While no analyses of breakup or freeze-up dates for WHB since 2010 have been published, this pattern seems to havecontinued to at least 2015.
Prediction 3. Chukchi Sea polar bears will be the most harmed by summer sea ice declines because they experience some of the largest sea ice losses of any subpopulation (and thus, the longest open-water season each year).
FAIL – A recent study of Chukchi bears (2008-2011) found them in better condition than they were in the 1980s when summer open-water seasons were short – indeed, only Foxe Basin bears were fatter than Chukchi bears. They were also reproducing well (Rode et al. 2010, 2013, 2014), with some females raising litters of triplets (see lead photo), a rare sight outside Western Hudson Bay.
Prediction 4. Cannibalism will increase as summer sea ice extent declines worsen.
FAIL – Cannibalism is a natural phenomenon in polar bears and none of the few incidents reported recently have involved obviously thin or starving polar bears(even the most recent example, filmed in mid-August 2015 in Baffin Bay when sea ice levels in the region were high),despite the fact that 2012 recorded the lowest summer ice extent since 1979. Incidents of cannibalism cannot be said to be increasingbecause there is no scientific baseline to which recent occurrences can be compared.
Prediction 5. Drowning deaths of polar bears will increase as summer sea ice continues to decline (driven home by a high-profile incident in 2004).
FAIL – There have been no further confirmed reports of polar bear drowning deathsassociated with extensive open water swimming since that contentious 2004 event, even though the two lowest extents of summer sea ice have occurred since then (2007 and 2012). A more rigorous study of swimming prowess found polar bears, including cubs, are capable of successfully making long-distance swims. Indeed, challenging open-water swims don’t happen only in summer: in late March 2015, a polar bear swam through open water from the pack ice off Newfoundland to the Hibernia oil platform well offshore.
An Update Via WUWT:
Guest essay by Dr. Susan J. Crockford of polarbearscience.com * see update below on the % number
Survey Results: Svalbard polar bear numbers increased 30 42% over last 11 years
Results of this fall’s Barents Sea population survey have been released by the Norwegian Polar Institute and they are phenomenal: despite several years with poor ice conditions, there are more bears now (~975) than there were in 2004 (~685) around Svalbard (a 30 42% increase) and the bears were in good condition.