By Kenneth Richard
Ten years ago, polar bears were classified as an endangered species due to model-based assumptions that said the recession of Arctic sea ice would hamper the bears’ seal-hunting capabilities and ultimately lead to starvation and extinction.
The Inuit, who have observed these bears catch seals in open water for generations, disagree. At least this is what scientists have found upon investigation.
“There is no evidence that the fast reduction of sea-ice habitat in the area has yet led to a reduction in population size.” (Aars et al., 2017 )
Inuit observations: “… back in early 80s, and mid 90s, there were hardly any bears … there’s too many polar bears now. Bears can catch seals even—even if the—if the ice is really thin … they’re great hunters those bears … they’re really smart … they know how to survive.” (Wong et al., 2017)
Inuit observations: “No, because polar bears can go and follow the seals further [if sea ice retreats], so they won’t have trouble hunting. Also the snow covers the [seals’] breathing holes but polar bears can still hunt, it’s just for people. There is more rough ice, more thin ice. But it won’t affect polar bears’ hunting.” (Dowsley, 2007)
“Reduction in the heavy multiyear ice and increased productivity from a longer open water season may even enhance polar bear habitat in some areas. … It seems unlikely that polar bears (as a species) are at risk from anthropogenic global warming.” (York et al., 2016)
Sometimes the “Western scientific understanding” of how the natural world operates conflicts with observations.
“The view of polar bears as effective open-water hunters is not consistent with the Western scientific understanding that bears rely on the sea ice platform for catching prey. … [Participants] indicated that polar bear body condition is stable; they cited the fact that polar bears are capable of hunting seals in open water as a factor contributing to the stable body condition of the bears.” (Laforest et al., 2018).
The paleoclimate evidence, which shows that sea ice was thinner and less extensive than today for most of the last 10,000 years, also contradicts the assumptions about modern polar bear endangerment due to thinning ice. One must ask: How did polar bears survive sea ice free summers in the ancient past if they existentially rely on thick sea ice to hunt prey today?
When the observations don’t agree with the models and assumptions, real scientists are supposed to reconsider their hypotheses.
Climate scientists, on the other hand, too often discard the data that conflict with their modeled assumptions and proceed to call those who question their models and assumptions names (i.e., “deniers”).
This begs the question: Why is climate science so much different than real science?
In the 3 new papers referenced below, extensive observational evidence suggests that polar bear populations are currently healthier than in the past, and their numbers have been stable or growing in recent decades.
Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Polar Bears in
the Northern Eeyou Marine Region, Québec, Canada
“Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Polar Bears […] Québec, Canada … Communities also differed in their perception of the prevalence of problem polar bears and the conservation status of the species, with one-third of participants reporting that polar bears will be unaffected by, or even benefit from, longer ice-free periods. A majority of participants indicated that the local polar bear population was stable or increasing.”
“[Participants] indicated that polar bear body condition is stable; they cited the fact that polar bears are capable of hunting seals in open water as a factor contributing to the stable body condition of the bears. … None of the participants explicitly linked the effects of a warming climate to specific impacts on polar bears. … Five participants indicated that polar bears are adept swimmers capable of hunting seals in open water. Residents of communities along Baffin Bay have also expressed this viewpoint (Dowsley and Wenzel, 2008), whereas Inuvialuit of the Western Arctic had variable perceptions of the ability of bears to catch seals in open water (Joint Secretariat, 2015).”
“The view of polar bears as effective open-water hunters is not consistent with the Western scientific understanding that bears rely on the sea ice platform for catching prey (Stirling and McEwan, 1975; Smith, 1980). The implications of this disagreement are paramount, given that scientists suggest that the greatest threat to polar bears associated with a decrease in sea ice is a significant decrease in access to marine mammal prey (Stirling and Derocher, 1993; Derocher et al., 2004) … A recent aerial survey of the Southern Hudson Bay subpopulation concluded that the abundance of polar bears has remained steady since 1986 (943 bears; SE: 174) (Obbard et al., 2015). The survey included the entire coastal range and offshore island habitat of the Southern Hudson Bay subpopulation, except for the eastern James Bay coast. Taken together, the results of the aerial survey and the participant responses from Wemindji and Chisasibi indicate that the local population has remained stable. However, the unanimous responses from participants in Whapmagoostui/Kuujjuarapik suggest that there has been a localized increase in the number of bears near Whapmagoostui/Kuujjuarapik.”
Traditional Knowledge About Polar Bears
(Ursus maritimus) in East Greenland:
Changes in the Catch and Climate Over Two Decades
“Half the hunters from Ittoqqortoormiit reported that they catch more polar bears than 10–15 years ago and 38% said it was the same (Table 1). A few noted the conditions vary from year to year and the ice conditions determine whether they catch a polar bear in a given year. … When asked about changes in the number of polar bears in their hunting areas in the past 10–15 years (since the introduction of the quota), 63% of hunters in both regions said there are “more polar bears.” The remaining hunters said they did not know, there was no change, or there were fewer polar bears (Table 4). A variety of responses were given as explanations; the bulk of responses mentioned quotas, sea ice timing, and restrictions on what categories of polar bears hunters are allowed to catch (authors’ note: it is forbidden to catch females with cubs, dependent cubs and bears in dens).”