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Check the facts: Polar Bear Population Increase

Check the facts: The number of polar bears worldwide is not growing as claimed.

A Facebook post from January 4th (direct link, archived link) features a graph purporting to illustrate the global population of polar bears going back to the 1960s.
The wording above the graph says, “Polar Bears 1960s-2021.” “Rising, but they don’t want you to know about it.”
In just three weeks, the graph was shared more than 500 times.

We rate it as false.

According to experts, the growing number of polar bears is not due to a real growth in the population, but rather to improvements in bear tracking skills. Scientists claim that the graph is based on a variety of estimations of the world population, including extrapolation, unreliable estimates, and inadequate data sets.

Population data shows advancements in techniques for tracking bears.

The world population estimates from 1993, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2009, and 2021 are displayed on the graph, which is derived from the most recent status report issued by the Polar Bear Specialist Group. However, experts claim that such numbers, particularly the earlier ones, are erroneous and that comparing those years is invalid due to the range of methodologies employed.

Polar Bears International’s principal scientist, Steven Amstrup, stated via email that “populations have not grown.” “Instead, our expanding knowledge suggests there might be more bears in these regions than we previously believed.”

Chief research scientist at Polar Bears International John Whiteman noted that the data is not as continuous as the graph suggests; rather, it is irregular.

The study states on page five that “these numbers must be interpreted with caution because they reflect both the quantity and quality of scientific information, both of which can change over time, as well as the status of polar bears.”

The group’s former chair, Dag Vongraven, pointed out that the numbers from 1965 and 1981 in particular are approximations rather than supported by empirical data.

In an email, Vongraven said, “This is guesswork, pure and simple,” to USA TODAY. “These are just not useful. Very little data supports them.

According to Amstrup, scientists discovered their initial population estimates were excessively low as they were able to learn more about polar bears in various locations and follow them more successfully.

Thanks to technological advancements like ear tags and satellite tracking collars, researchers have been able to identify 19 different subpopulations of polar bears. However, because many live in very difficult-to-reach places, scientists still lack “sufficient population data” for many of those. This is according to the Polar Bear Specialist Group.

Despite what the post claims, there is no rise in the areas with the best data.

Three of the subpopulations had shrunk during the previous two generations, per the 2021 report. Over the last two generations, there has been no rise in any of the subpopulations. NASA reports that since 1979, sea ice concentrations have decreased by 13% per ten years as a result of rising global temperatures. According to a recent study, as a result of spending less time on sea ice, polar bears are fasting longer, getting thinner, and producing fewer offspring.

Global population estimates include “subpopulation estimates that differ greatly in quality,” some of which are based “solely on knowledge of habitat quality or expert judgment,” according to a joint email from group co-chairs Nicholas Lunn and Kristin Laidre.




close photography of white polar bear
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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