IT IS more than 25 years since official data on the body condition of female polar bears and survival of cubs in Western Hudson Bay was last published, despite claims that these are key measures of the impact of climate change on the animals. Publication of population counts for several Arctic regions is also long overdue. Now polar bear expert Dr Susan Crockford is suggesting that this may be because the figures do not back up claims that the bears are facing disaster.
In The State of the Polar Bear Report 2019, published last week by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), she explains that sea ice conditions for Western and Southern Hudson Bay bears have been excellent in recent years.
‘It can hardly be claimed that lack of sea ice is causing Western and Southern Hudson Bay polar bear numbers to decline as a result of poor cub survival and reduced weights of adult females when breakup and freeze-up dates have been so advantageous for the last three years.’
The report also looks at recent incidents when two Russian Arctic towns were visited by polar bears, and suggestions that 2019 was the year of the polar bear ‘invasion’. The lives of residents were certainly threatened by congregations of more than 50 bears, and Crockford thinks that it is likely to be a continuing problem because there are now so many bears roaming the Arctic and because virtually all communities still have open rubbish dumps. However, there is no evidence these 2019 ‘invasion’ incidents were caused by a lack of sea ice or because the polar bears were starving. Right now, Arctic residents and visitors face a much greater risk of having a deadly encounter with a polar bear at almost any time of year than they did decades ago, but only because polar bears seem to be thriving and their populations so much larger.
Nevertheless, the public are still being told that polar bears are in trouble because of climate change. If they are going to take these claims seriously, they need to see up-to-date population count data. At the moment, this isn’t happening. The Polar Bear Specialist Group, which is responsible for the data, continues to cite decades-old data, and to withhold the latest count figures: the surveys of M’Clintock Channel and Viscount Melville (completed 2016 and 2014, respectively), Southern Beaufort and Gulf of Boothia (completed 2017) and Davis Strait (completed 2018), were all promised for publication in 2019 or sooner, but so far nothing has appeared. The missing counts could easily add 10 per cent to the official IUCN Red List global population estimate (2015) of 22,000–31,000 (average about 26,000).
The problems with what the public is told about polar bears don’t end there. Crockford cites examples of misleading images being used as propaganda about climate change. For example, while there has been no increase in starving or dying bears in recent years, there certainly seem to be a lot more photos and videos of hungry bears. As Crockford explains, ‘A 2017 National Geographic video of an emaciated bear almost certainly showed an animal suffering from cancer or another malady that caused profound muscle wasting preventing it from hunting and thus causing it to starve.’
Fortunately, this particular deception was quickly exposed, and pushback from viewers apparently prompted National Geographic to issue an apology, saying it had gone too far with its claim that ’this is what climate change looks like . . .’ But that doesn’t excuse what was a blatant piece of propaganda, nor the fact that nothing had been done to help the bear or put it out of its misery. Apparently the videographer had spotted the ailing bear several days before, but he told nobody so that he could return with his camera. He even kept it a secret afterwards, refusing to alert conservation officers or warn the public (starving bears are desperate and extremely dangerous).
As this sorry tale reveals, polar bears continue to be a tool for politically motivated activists and green-minded scientists who, it is clear, they are happy to deceive and mislead to advance their cause. We should all be very cautious about accepting their word, and mightily relieved that we have people like Susan Crockford around to tell us the truth.