Cue the climate change skeptics: Census of Svalbard’s polar bear population shows large increase since 2004


In the spirit of Christmas, some good news about Svalbard’s healthy and growing polar bear population is likely to bring joy to climate change alarmists and denalists alike.

A census at this summer by the Norwegian Polar Institute indicates there are about 975 polar bears in the Norwegian region of the Barents Sea, up from about 685 during the last census in 2004, despite several years with poor sea ice cover during the intervening period.

Numerous studies indicate the loss of the ice bears traditionally hunt from poses a critical long-term threat to the species, but the census also shows the bears are healthy as well as plentiful.

“The bears were in good physical condition,” said Jon Aars, a polar bear researcher at the institite, in a press release Wednesday. “The ice conditions were good this last year and so the availability of food has been good. But should there be several years in a row with poor ice conditions, this may be of major consequences for the polar bears.

“A rise in the population does not come as a big surprise, as population numbers previously have been low due to the fact that these bears were hunted until 40 years ago,” he added.

The four-week census was supposed to tally the entire bear population in the Barents Sea region, but Russia backed out of a commitment to allow the count on its side of the border for reasons never made entirely clear. Aars has stated he hopes Russia conducts a separate count in the near future so a reasonably accurate figure can still be reached.

The Norwegian survey was also hampered by bad weather which limited visibility and prevented scientists from reaching some areas, forcing the researchers to rely more on estimates than planned.

While the prospect of more bears is obviously reason for wildlife lovers to celebrate, plenty of folks who dismiss the concept of climate change as “junk scientists” are also expressing plenty of glee – in both scientific and scornful terms.

“So again, despite the recent declines in summer sea ice that polar bear specialists, in their expert opinions, insist spell doom for polar bears, the bears are doing just fine,” wrote Susan Crockford, a veteran zoologist, in one of numerous posts at her blog that claims to expose myths about the demise of polar bears due to global warming.

“The evidence is now very strong that recent declines in summer/fall sea ice have little to no negative impact on polar bear populations: the real threat to polar bears is thick spring ice,” she wrote. “Thick spring ice near shore drives seals to give birth elsewhere because they cannot maintain their breathing holes in the ice. This leaves mothers emerging from onshore dens with newborn cubs with nothing to eat at a time when they desperately need food: cubs die quickly, mothers more slowly.”

Among the scorners not using the census results to take racist, religious and political potshots was “rabbit” at who snarked “obviously climate change is devastating the polar bear population as it is leading to overeating, resulting in late-onset diabetes and heart disease. Governments should be encouraged to set up salad bars and treadmills for the bears within their traditional hunting regions.”