It’s International Polar Bear Day, and The Daily Caller News Foundation wants to take a moment to explain five ways polar bears are thriving despite warnings that global warming is destroying their habitats.
For years, environmentalists and scientists have made dire predictions from the end of snow to the end of ice in the Arctic — all of which were supposed to mean tough times for polar bears. These predictions, alas, have not come to pass.
Such fears got polar bears listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2008 based on future predictions of global warming — not the actual status of polar bears.
Instead, polar bears continue to thrive in the Arctic, thanks largely to trading and hunting bans put into place by world governments decades ago. But sometimes, dire news about global warming can lead people to forget how this adaptive species is holding up.
1. There are more polar bears alive today than there were 40 years ago — That’s right, polar bears are a conservation success story in that their numbers have massively rebounded since bans were put into place in the 1970s.
The Polar Bear Specialist Group estimates there are 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the world. But this number is likely higher since PBSG does not make estimates for all polar bear subpopulations.
2. Most polar bear subpopulations are stable or growing — The PBSG splits up the world’s polar bear population into different subpopulations to more efficiently monitor them. But as veteran zoologist Susan Crockford notes, “only two subpopulations are ‘likely in decline’, down from four listed by the PBSG as declining in 2013 and seven in 2010.”
Some polar bear populations are doing so well in recent years, that in 2013 the Davis Straits subpopulation may have even reached the limits of what the local environment could support — called a “carrying capacity.”
3. Polar bears have plenty of food to eat thanks to shrinking ice sheets — Crockford notes that polar bears in the Chukchi Sea region of Alaska have been thriving in part because of shrinking sea ice.
But isn’t that bad for polar bears? Actually, it’s allowed for the bear’s main prey, Arctic ringed seals, to become fatter. And fatter seals, means fuller bears.
Crockford notes that “in recent years, with extensive September sea-ice minimums, the summer feeding period for seals was extended and they became extra fat. This meant that some seals provided a more energy-rich food source for polar bears over the following fall and winter, an immediate benefit to the bears.”
4. Polar bear penises are not breaking (because that would suck) — Not too long ago media reports were circulating findings that polar bear penises were breaking due to chemical toxins the air from industrialized countries. The fact is there was no actual evidence for polar bear penises breaking, only speculation on the part of researchers.
“They found a correlation between reduced bone density and increased environmental chemicals they measured in the bear’s fat,” Crockford told The DCNF at the time. “They assumed a causation between the two but they don’t know the mechanism and they certainly do not offer any evidence that penis bones had been breaking due to this lessened bone density – only that perhaps they could.”
5. Polar bears survived past warming periods where there was almost no sea ice — Recent research shows that polar bears have been a genetically distinct species for more than one millions years. In that time there have been periods of very low to virtually non-existent Arctic sea ice coverage to sea ice coverage that was much higher than today.
“It seems logical that if polar bears survived previous warm, ice-free periods, they could survive another,” said Matthew Cronin, professor of animal genetics at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, who led the recent polar bear study.
“This is of course speculation, but so is predicting they will not survive, as the proponents of the endangered species act listing of polar bears have done,” Cronin said.
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