How Many Polar Bears in Nunavut?

FOLLOWING aerial surveys to estimate polar bear numbers, it was recently reported in The Globe and Mail [1] that polar bear population numbers are higher than originally thought:

“The number of bears along the western shore of Hudson Bay, believed to be among the most threatened bear subpopulations, stands at 1,013 and could be even higher, according to the results of an aerial survey released Wednesday by the Government of Nunavut. That’s 66 per cent higher than estimates by other researchers who forecasted the numbers would fall to as low as 610 because of warming temperatures that melt ice faster and ruin bears’ ability to hunt. The Hudson Bay region, which straddles Nunavut and Manitoba, is critical because it’s considered a bellwether for how polar bears are doing elsewhere in the Arctic.”

Ever since that April 3, 2006, cover of Time Magazine many people have been very worried about polar bears.

The Globe and Mail report is apparently quoting Drikus Gissing, Nunavut’s director of wildlife management. But I can’t find this number of 1,013 in the actual report on the survey. [2] And what does it mean if there are 1,013 bears?

According to Anthony Watts [3]:

“What I found most interesting is the clear message that polar bears are thriving in an environment where sea ice (NSIDC includes Hudson Bay as sea ice) seasonally disappears entirely.”

But, again, I can’t find any evidence in the report that polar bears are thriving?

Across the entire region surveyed, polar bear numbers appear to have increased slightly from the 2,200 in the early 1990s to 2,580 in 2009/10.

It is generally assumed, by those who fear anthropogenic global warming, that polar bear numbers are declining globally. But many of us skeptical of this popular consensus have been quick to quote an assumed increase in polar bear numbers over recent decades from a low of about 5,000 in the 1960s to recent estimates of about 22,000.

But how reliable are these figures?

I’ve tracked down a copy of the ‘Proceedings of the First International Scientific Meeting on Polar Bears’ held in Fairbanks Alaska, 6-10 September 1965. It doesn’t actually state how many polar bears there were back then. The Canadian Wildlife Service Brief includes comment that:

“Scott and others (1959) concluded that about 2,000 to 2,500 polar bears existed near the Alaskan coast. By extrapolation they arrived at a total polar bear population of 17,000 to 19,000 animals. Uspensky (1961) estimated the world polar bear population at 5,000 to 8,000 animals. Harington (1964) has given an estimate of 6,000 to 7,000 polar bears for the Canadian Arctic and believes the world polar bear population is well over 10,000. Approximately 18 percent of the total Canadian Arctic population is cubs (0-2 years old).”

There is no reference list with this brief.

In summary we may live in The Information Age, but it’s sure hard to find meaningful information on population numbers for the iconic polar bear.  I’m not sure we have any real idea how polar bear population numbers are trending along the western shore of Hudson Bay, Nunavut, Canada or globally.


1. Healthy polar bear count confounds doomsayers. Paul Waldie. April 4, 2012

2. Foxe Basin Polar Bear Aerial Survey

3. Nunavut Government Study: “the [polar] bear population is not in crisis as people believed,”

21 Responses to How Many Polar Bears in Nunavut?

  1. spangled drongo April 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    Like with all wildlife, they’ve been coping with climate change for so long that’s one of the least of their problems.

    Eight millenia of rising CO2 and cooling temperatures we can all live with.

  2. cohenite April 9, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    The Time magazine is from 2006. I wonder if they are still “very worried” or have gone into catatonic shock; hopefully the latter.

  3. spangled drongo April 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    Should have posted this link to my previous comment:

  4. Geoff Brown April 9, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    Let’s not forget the disgraceful treatment by the PBSG of expert Mitch Taylor. Jen wrote of this in Sept 2009 – see also

  5. Robert April 9, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    Time Magazine beat it up. Just like they helped beat up the Global Cooling scare in 1979. (They were late to that particular dogfight, but they’ve learned the lesson.)

    I dare say nobody knows polar bear numbers, because it’s too hard to know. So they make the numbers up.


  6. Len April 9, 2012 at 11:27 pm #

    From reports the indigenous are still allowed to hunt the polar bears, although a quota is imposed. They sell the right to hunters.

  7. jennifer April 9, 2012 at 11:55 pm #


    According to the article in The Globe and Daily Mail:
    “Over all, about 450 polar bears are killed annually across Nunavut. Mr. Gissing said a new quota is expected to be announced in June.”

    If local population numbers are in the 1,000s (rather than 10 of 1,000) then the killing of hundreds of bears each year seems outrageous… indeed unsustainable.

    I sincerely hope we don’t have a declining bear population in western Canada, not because of global warming, but because of political sensitivities related to the setting and enforcement of a low quota for indigenous harvest.

  8. Dave April 10, 2012 at 12:02 am #

    I think you are right: it was never economically feasible to have a robust estimate of polar bear numbers before they became a pawn in the CAGW game. Since then the money has flowed to people with an agenda: to prove that numbers were declining. That is no way to do science or even wildlife management. This new study has an agenda too, but at least it is based in the local economics that give polar bears a real value to the people who live with them, rather than the coyotes from the south loaded with other peoples’ tax dollars and predetermined outcomes.

  9. Dave April 10, 2012 at 12:38 am #

    I couldn’t find any data on the Environment Canada polar bear websites, but the USGS has some published mark-recapture data:

    Unfortunately, the papers show a clear bias, but the study found no significant difference in the southern Beaufort Sea region population from an estimate about 20 years earlier. They cite the claimed western Hudson Bay decline, but the 95% confidence intervals overlap: ” The size of the Western Hudson Bay polar bear population declined from 1194 (95% CI = 1020, 1368) in 1987, to 935 (95% CI = 794, 1076) in 2004.” So, ‘decline’ is not a supportable statement based on this data and seems to be contradicted by the aerial sightings: ” We flew >300 hours and 40,000 km during each year’s survey and observed 816 and 1,003 individuals in 2009 and 2010, respectively.” The estimates based on these aerial surveys are: “(~2,580 bears (95% CI: about 2,100 – 3,200)”. So, as far as in known, the SBS and WHB populations both seem to be relatively stable.

    Also of interest is the hypothesis in the USGS paper that the increased number of polar bears in human communities over the last few years is attributed to earlier ice break up and ‘nutritional stress’. How about an increasing polar bear population or an increasing human population/ refuse attractant? Well, I guess no one would fund that kind of research.

  10. Doug Proctor April 10, 2012 at 2:10 am #

    Having been in Churchill, Manitoba, the place where the polar bears wait while the Churchill River freezes over (not because they can’t swim across, but because, when the River is frozen enough to cross, the snow conditions on the other side are suitable for travel and hunting), I KNOW that from the ’40s to the ’60s the polar bear population was both decimated and kept low because of the American early warming base on Churchill’s outskirts. During this time garbage from both the town and the base was dumped and burned (now it is contained and incinerated). The bears were attracted to the dump and the base, where soldiers on guard duty regularly shot them: no private was going to let a senior officer get eaten by a bear he could have shot earlier (despite his personal feelings about said officer). Plus, visiting very senior officers would come and be taken out on unofficial polar bear hunts. Of course they would.

    So during that 25 or more years, polar bears had a short history in the Churchill area. Where they hang around each year! While I was there, in late August/September 2009, the bear siren went off regularly. It is not safe to wander about, even though during several months the bears actually don’t eat (like whales going to Hawaii, they have learned to abstain because there is not enough to rely upon for food at that time of year in that area). There are now more bears in Churchill than during the ’60s. If ever there was a time they were threatened, it was in the ’60s.

    Up on the Arctic coast, where I also was recently, the sea ice is definitely down, from 8 or more kilometers at Banks Island, to less than 3 now, during the depth of winter. It is still enough, though, and the polar bears still eat well. And we know that because the polar bear hunt still goes on! Each summer a number of tags are issued, at $35 – 50 grand per tag, for (primarily) American big-game hunters. The hunt is a large part of the local economy and lifestyle of the Inuit. Not all are hunters, but the hunting is important to the communities.

    While I was there, I was told by a conservation officer that the polar bears were 18 kg lighter than at some previous time. I wasn’t told that they starved to death, or even were dangerously weaker that this unspecified time. The prior weight could have been in EXCESS to the norm, for all they knew. No one suggested that there were less cubs being born, either. All the damage was still in the future, and based on linear projections of less than one cycle – without admitting that there were cycles in bear populations, of course.

    The real problem I have with all the CAGW alarm is that the dangers are ALL in the future. Whatever the warmists might say about “extreme” weather, the alarm is about today having a “taste of what is to come”. Today is fine. Tomorrow will be fine. All the alarm is about some time down the road, 2050 perhaps, but more like 2100. Except that is not what you get from the speeches and the reports.

    CAGW alarm, like polar bear population worries, are phrased in the future conditional: may, could, might, should. Not will, does, shall. But that fine distinction is lost in the media and by the writers who use such terms. For them, and the readers, the “may” is just a today-word for what we “will” wake up to, and soon. But it is not. “May” is the word that stands in for projections based on inadequate data fed into highly contentious formulae.

    Polar bears have been through a number os serious warming episodes. Were they almost wiped out during those times? Who knows? Ah, but the theories say so: so there is no comfort in their obvious survival of those times.

    I buy house insurance; the Precautionary Principle makes sense to me. But in my neighbourhood right now, people are installing sprinkers on their roofs to protect them from external fires. Last/previous summer a town in Northern Alberta, Slave Lake, burned to the ground after a forest fire moved through the area and local fire fighting was inadquate. Here in Calgary we have no forest and a fire hall two streets over. I’m sorry, but those roof sprinklers are probably going to cause more water damage from freezing and splitting some time than they will ever prevent fire damage from a raging inferno sweeping out of … the Safeway parking lots.

    Real threats deserve real responses. Projected threats require attention, not action. Polar bears are not falling off the Earth, except in someone’s Excell spread-sheeted mind.

  11. Neville April 10, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    Lomborg gave an extensive coverage to PB numbers in his book “Cool It” and came to the conclusion that it was hunting in just a few populations that was the only real problem.

    The best numbers are 20 to 25 thousand today and only about 5 thousand in 1960, or at least a fourfold increase over the last half century.
    If they wake up and limit hunting in a few populations the problem ? will be easily fixed.

    Alternatively they could limit hunting to hand held and launched harpoons and let the rich white folks take there chances. I’d really like to see that, yuk, yuk.

  12. Neville April 10, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    Sorry above should read take their chances not there.

  13. Debbie April 10, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    ‘In summary we may live in The Information Age, but it’s sure hard to find meaningful information on population numbers for the iconic polar bear’

    That was well said Jen!!!
    Unfortunately it doesn’t just apply to the polar bears.
    Attempting to find the reference material for a lot of the current reports re the MDBP, water management, socio-economic studies, education and Climate Change is outrageously difficult….these are the ones I have tried recently. I imagine those related to health care and the GBR and numerous others (that I haven’t tried recently) would be just as difficult.
    It’s also amazing how defensive some of these department representatives get when they’re asked for their primary source references.
    For some reason we’re just supposed to accept that their input data is ‘robust’ and ‘reliable’ and we’re not supposed to ask questions about that.
    We’re also supposed to be impressed by the ‘amount of work’ that went into producing these reports.
    While I don’t deny that a lot of work is required to produce reports such as these, I do not understand why it is so incredibly difficult to access reference sources.

  14. jennifer April 10, 2012 at 10:09 am #


    Lomborg began his book with reference to increasing polar bear numbers but on what basis was he claiming – from my memory – an increase from 5,000 to 22,000? I can’t easily access my copy of his book.

    In short, what is the basis of the popular amongst sceptics claim that bear numbers were only 5,000 and are now about 22,000?

    Could bear numbers have changed little over the last fifty years and still be significantly depressed because of hunting?

  15. spangled drongo April 10, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Looks like it’s not just the bears that are in danger, it’s those naked apes too:

  16. Robert April 10, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    Is Environmentalism an urban, leftist and upper class movement inconsistent with Conservation? How many environmentalists are tacitly happy with hunting of polar bears? How many are unhappy that there was no Arctic death spiral after 2007, and are frustrated by the awkward task of inventing one? How many are yearning for more severe natural disasters that they can oafishly tie in with their CAGW fetish?

    I’d like to get the ball rolling by saying that Environmentalism is the irrational, sick quasi-religion of the twenty-first century. Environmentalists are not totalitarians. They are the dithering mensheviks who come before the controllers who care about nothing but control. When the controllers get their turn, don’t be a human or a polar bear.

    To help polar bears or any species we need to burn coal for cheap electricity and make lots of money. We need healthy humans, for whom starvation and major infectious diseases are just a bad memory. We need conservation-based ( hence non-organic) agriculture, mass production and mass distribution to meet human needs globally (and to annoy our Green Betters, who are such a bunch of prigs.)

    No wealth, no Conservation.

  17. Robert April 10, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    Just to clear up any misunderstandings, by “non-organic” I meant, of course, agriculture free of silly fetishism about chemicals and GM. There may be farmers out there who can afford to waste soil and overuse expensive chemicals, but most certainly can’t.

    By the way, my moso bamboo would be “organic” if I wanted to give money to white guys with ponytails in exchange for nothing but their good opinion.

  18. Neville April 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    Jennifer this site seems as good a reference as I could find. See last 5 paragraphs on numbers and how Polar bears thrive in warmer weather.

    Lomborg also mentions these findings in the first seven pages of his book and mentions that the two pops of bears that are decreasing in numbers are getting colder.

  19. Ross April 10, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    How much can a polar bare? How many more lies can we all bare Jennifer? AGW will prove to be the biggest con ever perpetrated in human history,all facilitated by a scientific/financial elite.

  20. Neville April 11, 2012 at 8:00 am #

    This won’t worry the polar bears at all, but Bolt has listed some of the retreat from the Green nightmare horror show.

  21. Neville April 11, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    This could be the biggest retreat of them all. But how has NASA or the govt tolerated this idiots out of workplace demos and arrests over the years.

    It was this idiot and mad Gore who kick started this fraud/ con and we in Oz have wasted billions $ and will waste countless more billions following the introduction of Juliar’s co2 tax.

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