Last December, the Guardian ran a story claiming that polar bears were “vanishing” from Churchill, the polar bear capital of the world, using copy supplied by the green activist operation Agence France-Presse. Similar headlines appeared across many mainstream media, with the BBC making up a headline that claimed Canada’s polar bear population had plummeted. The decline was said to be 27% over five years in Canada’s West Hudson Bay (WH) area, but inexplicably missing from the green propaganda was a note that bear numbers in the adjacent and larger South Hudson Bay (SH) climbed 30% in the same period.
There is now growing interest about the 27% headline figure. In December a full report on WH scientific findings was not available from the local Nunavut Government, but the biologist and investigative science writer Dr. Susan Crockford has now seen a copy. She suggests the media must have been given little more than a press release “with approved talking points“. It is obvious the press never saw the full WH report, not least because it referenced similar SH work disclosing the higher local polar bear numbers. Of course in the interest of promoting yet another climate scare, the blinkered media might have ignored the second report anyway.
Crockford has been indefatigable in hunting down the mis- and disinformation used to promote eco-scares in the Arctic regions. She recently wrote a book titled Fallen Icon: Sir David Attenborough and the Walrus Deception. The book followed a 2019 WWF-Netflix Our Planet episode which showed hundreds of walruses falling off a cliff. Attenborough explained that the horrific scenes were due to “climate change”, although an undisclosed pack of nearby polar bears provided a more obvious explanation. For their part, polar bears move around and their numbers can be difficult to calculate. But in recent years, attempts to make them the poster animal of the so-called climate emergency have been hampered by evidence that they have increased in overall numbers.
The West Hudson scare story had added value in promoting global climate fear, and hence support for the collectivist Net Zero project. West Hudson Bay is on the cusp of the Canadian Arctic, and every year millions of dollars worth of tourism is attracted to the Manitoban town of Churchill, dubbed the polar bear capital of the world.
The 27% drop in WH bear numbers arises from an 2021 estimate of 618 compared with 842 in 2016. But Crockford notes that similar estimates in SH increased by 223 bears compared with the 224 WH loss. But this is not a neat end to the story, since it might be at least partly a coincidence.
Most of the WH loss was found in female and young bears with male abundance remaining unchanged. However there is some biopsy dart evidence that suggested 22% of sampled WH male bears were now to be found in the south. They were not the ‘missing’ females. It also begs the question why male bears locating to SH did not produce a corresponding decline in WH. In the south, the 30% jump in numbers to 1,119 could be due to natural birth rates, although the SH authors initially said this was “highly implausible”. Nevertheless, Crockford notes their data indicated that 35% of all SH bears were yearlings or cubs less than 12 months old. The authors finally concluded that a natural increase in numbers did happen with good ice conditions, and perhaps there was immigration of some bears from other subpopulations that could not be verified.
The AFP/Guardian story tied its “vanishing” bear trope to the sea-ice habitat that is said to have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Crockford notes the suggestion of the WH report authors that the decline was “consistent” with predictions of adverse effects of climate change, but she adds that no sea ice data were provided to back up this assertion. However, observations by others, continues Crockford, including the SH authors, indicate the decline couldn’t have been caused by sea ice conditions over the last five years, ”because WH ice from 2017 to 2020 was better than it had been for decades”.
So what did happen to any missing bears? As always, a more logical explanation is at hand to debunk the convoluted and implausible media-ready accounts twisted to fit the global Net Zero narrative. They simply went north to Foxe Basin, Crockford suggests. There hasn’t been a census in this area since 2010, but at that time they were doing well with an estimated population of 2,580. Foxe Basin bears mix with their more southerly neighbours, and sea ice generally persists at the more northerly location until well into August.
Crockford is highly critical of the Hudson Bay surveys, noting the results reveal that polar bear specialists have no idea what’s actually going on with Hudson Bay bears. “Without sea ice to blame, they’ve got nothing. They simply can’t explain their results,” she concludes. To be charitable, the scientists have an obvious message to spin, but they are at least out in all weathers, counting bears and attempting to detail habitat and animal behaviour. Mainstream media writers sit in a warm office, fail to ask any investigative questions, and simply sub a press release constructed to boost the pre-determined political narrative.
Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor.