Chukchi Polar Bears Thriving As Arctic Ice Recedes

Published October 7, 2013

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports polar bears in the Chukchi Sea are growing larger in size and becoming healthier as Arctic sea recedes. The bears are thriving even though the Chukchi Sea is one of the areas where Arctic sea ice has receded the most in recent years.

The Chukchi Sea separates Alaska and Russia. The USFWS reports Chukchi polar bears are gaining size and appearing healthier in recent years as Chukchi sea ice recedes.

Real-World Testing Ground
The Chukchi Sea provides an important real-world illustration of the impacts of receding sea ice on polar bear populations. Chukchi Sea ice receded twice as much during the past 20 years as the neighboring Southern Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean along Alaska’s northeastern coast.

Outperforming Their Neighbors
According to the USFWS study, Chukchi Sea polar bears of both genders are heavier than polar bears in the neighboring Southern Beaufort Sea, where there is more sea ice. The weight difference is especially pronounced among male polar bears, USFWS reports.

Chukchi Sea polar bears’ body weight and overall health either remained stable or improved, according to the study.

Chukchi Sea female polar bears have more cubs than Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, the study observes.

The USFWS reports Chukchi Sea polar bears have more access to prey as sea ice recedes. This contradicts assertions by global warming activists that receding sea ice is forcing polar bears to starve or subsist on less food.

Science Trumps Alarmism
Marc Morano, publisher of the Climate Depot website and author the 2008 U.S. Senate Polar Bear Report, says reality is trumping unsupportable alarmism about global warming and polar bears.

“This new study adds further evidence that far from being endangered, polar bears are thriving in the Arctic. Indigenous people recognize that polar bear numbers are going up, and now even official estimates are reflecting that,” said Morano.

“It now seems that the greatest threat polar bears may face from global warming is from the failed climate model predictions claiming they are doomed,” he added.

More Access to Prey
Evolutionary biologist and polar bear expert Susan J. Crockford, an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, confirmed polar bears are doing quite well with less Arctic sea ice.

“A longer ice-free period in summer has increased the number of ringed seals because summer is the primary feeding period for seals. This means more seal pups in the spring, which is the primary feeding period for polar bears,” Crockford explained. “Chukchi bears are not feeding longer in the spring; they are just eating more. Apparently, this was not what the researchers expected.

“Before climate change became the cause du jour, it was pretty clear that polar bears in the Canadian portion of the Beaufort suffer because of the thick ice that occasionally develops there in the spring,” Crockford noted. “It’s a phenomenon unique to the Eastern Beaufort. In other words, there is ample evidence that too much ice in the spring is much worse for polar bears than less ice in the summer.”

Crockford says this study casts doubt on gloom-and-doom predictions about the demise of polar bears by proponents of alarm over manmade global warming.

“It might—it should definitely change them,” said Crockford. “The study certainly does not support the claim that polar bears are already being harmed by the loss of summer ice. It certainly invalidates the declaration made by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Polar Bear Specialist Group that the Chukchi subpopulation is a ‘declining’ one, and it calls into question their assumption that reduced summer ice can be expected to cause harm to polar bears within 10 years.”

Climate Conditions Not Unusual
H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, says climate data did not indicate a polar bear crisis even before the USFWS study. Arctic sea ice expanded and contracted many times in recent history, and polar bears weathered the changing conditions.

“Russian coastal-station records of both the extent of sea ice and the thickness of fast ice—ice fixed to the shoreline or seafloor—extending back 125 years show significant variability over 60- to 80-year periods. Moreover, the maximum air temperature they report for the twentieth century was in 1938, when it was nearly 0.4°F warmer than the air temperature in 2000. The Russian study concludes that observations do not support amplified warming in Polar Regions predicted by general circulation models,” said Burnett.

“What this means is that not only does sea ice vary considerably from year to year but polar bear responses do as well,” Burnett explained. “Though polar bears are uniquely adapted to the Arctic region, they are not wedded solely to its coldest parts, nor are they restricted to a specific Arctic diet—they are omnivores just like other bears. Aside from a variety of seals, they eat fish, kelp, caribou, ducks, sea birds, and scavenged whale and walrus carcasses.

“Indeed, polar bears have historically thrived in warmer temperatures than today’s—during the medieval warm period 1,000 years ago and during the Holocene Climate Optimum 5,000 to 9,000 years ago,” he added. “Thus, a modest warming may be beneficial to bears. It creates better habitat for seals and would dramatically increase the growth of blueberries on which the bears like to gorge.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.