Summary: The news media give us almost nothing but bad news about our changing climate and its effects, ignoring the good news. But the good news is out there. For example, about polar bears – the “poster children” for climate change. After a decade of experts’ dire predictions of their doom, they are thriving in many regions. Let’s enjoy the good news.
By Susan Crockford, Polar Bear Science. Reposted with her generous permission.
The Chukchi Sea finally has a polar bear population estimate! According to survey results from 2016 only recently made public, about 2937 bears (1,522 – 5,944) currently inhabit the region, making this the largest subpopulation in the Arctic. This is exciting news – and a huge accomplishment – but the US Fish and Wildlife Service responsible for the work has been oddly mum on the topic.
Not only that, but an extrapolation of that estimate calculated by USFWS researchers for Chukchi plus Alaska (the US portion of the Southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation) was estimated at 4,437 (2,283 – 9,527), although with “significant uncertainty.” Nevertheless, it means the 2016 estimate for Alaska could be roughly three times what it was in 2010: a whopping 1500 or so, up from about 450 (or about 225-650) for the same area estimated during the last survey (Bromaghin et al. 2015: Fig. 5a).
Even if the real number for Alaska is only twice as large (~1000), that’s still a huge improvement. It would eliminate the Southern Beaufort as the only polar bear subpopulation in the Arctic to have shown a significant decline blamed on human-caused global warming (Crockford 2018). If the recovery is real, it means the 2004 – 2006 decline was a temporary fluctuation after all, just like previous declines in the region. I expect, however, that it will take a dedicated SB population survey for officials to concede that point.
There is now a detailed report to cite (Regehr et al. 2018, see update below), but the numbers were announced at the 10th meeting of the Russian-American Commission on Polar Bears held at the end of July this year (AC SWG 2018) by Eric Regehr (formerly of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, as of 2017 at the University of Washington). [h/t to G.H.] This was the same report that raised the quota for subsistence hunting in the Chukchi from 58 to 85, based on these new figures, as I discussed last week. Regehr was quoted as saying:
“Chukchi bears remain larger and fatter and have not seen downward trends in cub production and survival, according to new preliminary information on the health and numbers of bears.”
The scientific paper describing the entirely new method (yes, yet another one: see Bromaghin et al. 2015) used to estimate the size of the Chukchi Sea population is now available (University of Washington press release here), in an open-access paper: Regher et al. 2018. News reports (see one here) spin the positive outcome as something that researchers expected all along but that’s simply not true. They expected Chukchi Sea bears and Southern Beaufort Sea bears to respond similarly to reduced amounts of summer sea ice, as explained here and in Crockford 2017).
Recent research on polar bears and their prey has been on-going in the Chukchi Sea since 2008 (Crawford et al. 2015; Crawford and Quackenbush 2013; Rode and Regehr 2010; Regehr et al. 2010, Rode et al. 2014, 2015, 2018). Now it’s all coming together to paint a picture of a large population of polar bears in excellent physical condition, with strong reproduction and cub survival (such as triplet litters sighted on numerous occasions), despite a much longer ice-free period in summer than in the 1980s.
Fat bears have been a common summer sight in the Chukchi Sea (see photo below from Sept. 2017 on Wrangel Island) as well as in Alaska. Despite the huge declines in summer sea ice since 2007, Chukchi bears are doing better than OK — they are truly thriving.
See the rest of her article, and references, at her Polar Bear Science website.
About good news
We get little good news from journalists because we prefer stories about disasters, either happening now or predicted in the future. The worst words for a headline are “good news.” That guarantees low traffic. News is a business like any other. Journalists gives us what we want to read, and what we read shapes our minds. Sad, but true. When we become more interested in information than info-tainment, we will be better able to run America. See more about this here.
About the author
Susan Crockford is a zoologist with more than 35 years experience, including published work on the Holocene history of Arctic animals. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia (a “non-remunerated professional zooarcheologist associate”) and co-owner of a private consulting company, Pacific Identifications Inc.
She has also written a novel, Eaten — a polar bear attack thriller.
For More Information
An example of fear-mongering about polar bears: Mother Jones sounds the alarm about global warming! This time about the north pole. Exploiting the polar bear story for political gain!
Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change and my posts about climate change. Also see all posts about polar bears, the arctic area, and polar sea ice, and especially these with good news about the climate…
- More good news about climate change from the IPCC: no sign yet of the methane apocalypse.
- Prof Botkin gives us good news about our changing climate.
- More good news about the climate, giving us a priceless gift.
- Twenty stories of good news about polar bears!
- Are 30 thousand species going extinct every year?
- Good news about polar bears, thriving as the arctic warms!
- The IPCC gives us good news about climate change, but we don’t listen.
- Good news about CO2 emissions. Progress to a better world.
I strongly recommend her book!
This is a fascinating book about one of our fellow top predators in the age of global warming. It describes how we almost exterminated them, their slow recovery — and new role as poster animals in the debate about global warming. The author briefly and clearly describes how they survive in one of the harshest environments on Earth, and how each year the weather determines how many live or die. She brings the perspective of a zoologist to review the forecasts by specialists of these bears’ fate as the Earth warms.
It provides a brief on-the-ground look at the dynamics of one kind of climate change in a warming world. Crockford writes well. The photos of are excellent and the illustrations are clear. It needs better maps, discussing places not mentioned on them. Crockford says more in 50 pages than others in one hundred.