Polar bear numbers have risen in the last decade amid habitats of abundant prey and adequate spring sea ice, according to a new report on the state of the animal long considered threatened by man-made global warming.
“Global polar bear numbers have been stable or risen slightly since 2005, despite the fact that summer sea ice since 2007 hit levels not expected until mid-century,” veteran zoologist Susan Crockford wrote in a report published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
Crockford is one of just a few researchers pushing back on the popular narrative that polar bears are already suffering due to sea ice habitat loss. Bears use floating ice to hunt for seals, so scientists say rapidly decreasing summer ice extent is concerning.
However, Crockford points out that polar bear numbers have not dropped off with sea ice decline. Arctic sea ice has declined faster than models predicted, but polar bear numbers are fine.
The “predicted 67% decline in polar bear numbers did not occur,” Crockford wrote in the State of the Polar Bear Report for 2017. Crockford has argued that thick spring ice conditions are more dangerous for polar bears, which is harder to hunt in.
“Abundant prey and adequate sea ice in spring and early summer since 2007 appear to explain why global polar bear numbers have not declined, as might have been expected as a result of low summer sea ice levels,” Crockford wrote.
Polar bears have long been the mascot of global warming. Former Vice President Al Gore sparked a lot of concern for the bears in his 2006 documentary that showed bears drowning searching for food amid ever-shrinking Arctic sea ice.
Concerns only mounted, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bear as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2008. It was the first time an animal had been listed under the ESA because of projections of future global warming.
Then government argued “the best available science” showed “that loss of sea ice threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar bear habitat.” Sea ice levels have continued to decline since then.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimated there were 24,500 polar bears in 2005, but despite less sea ice, a 2015 International Union for the Conservation of Nature report estimated the global polar bear population at 26,000. The estimate is likely higher since not every subpopulation had been counted.
There are more polar bears today than in 1973, when an international treaty was signed to protect polar bears. Restrictions on hunting and trade have caused numbers to rebound in recent decades.
Ever since Gore’s movie, concern over polar bears has reached new heights. The media even widely reported on a 2015 study claiming polar bears penises were breaking off because of chemicals accumulating in the Arctic.
There, of course, was no evidence any polar bear penises had broken off, but it was just one example of the misinformation Crockford has dealt with every year on polar bear conservation.
“Overly pessimistic media responses to recent polar bear issues have made heartbreaking news out of scientifically insignificant events, suggesting an attempt is being made to restore the status of this failed global warming icon,” Crockford wrote.
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