BBC’s Polar Bear Nonsense Debunked, Again

  • Date: 06/12/19
  • Susan Crockford, Polar Bear Science

Ryrkaypiy ‘over-run’ by >50 polar bears is probably due to more Chukchi Sea bears – not less

A scary-sounding headline from the BBC today screams “Ryrkaypiy: Far-north Russian village overrun by polar bears“. A little research would have shown (as I do below) that this sort of event is not unusual for this village, there is adequate sea ice off the coast to allow polar bears to hunt for seals if they choose to do so, and the photos provided do not support the claim that almost all of the polar bears “appeared to be thin” (see photo below and others). Similar incidents happened in 2013 and 2006. Increasing numbers of Chukchi Sea polar bears is the most plausible explanation for the recent abundance of bears at this village.

BBC Russian village Chukotka over run by polar bears BBC 5 Dec 2019 headline

BBC headline, 5 December 2019. Does that look like garbage these fat bears are feeding on or the frozen remains of dead walruses at the base of the Cape Schmidt cliff?

Ryrkaypiy location BBC 5 Dec 2019
Location of Ryrkaypiy, as provided by the BBC.

Recent scientific studies have shown Chukchi Sea polar bears are in excellent condition and reproducing well despite recent declines in summer sea ice and there is no scientific evidence that this situation changed markedly this year (Adam et al. 2019; AC SWG 2018; Regehr et al. 2018; Rode et al. 2014, 2018).

The latest survey estimated about 3,000 bears in the Chukchi Sea. On the contrary, there is every reason to suggest that more polar bears visiting Chukotka settlements in recent years is due to growing numbers of bears – as I suggested earlier this year for the rising problems with bears in Labrador. In other words, as was true in the 1980s, seeing more bears often means there are more bears.

Apparently, the BBC simply passes along all sensational claims made by WWF personel without any fact checking at all (5 December 2019), not even to press the informants to provide precise dates for these events (my bold):

“More than 50 polar bears have descended on a village in Russia’s far north.

All public activities in Ryrkaypiy, in Chukotka region, have been cancelled, and schools are being guarded to protect residents from the bears.

Conservationists say climate change could be to blame, with weak coastal ice forcing the bears to search for food in the village rather than at sea.

The animals were “both adult and young… there were females with cubs of different ages”, she said – adding that almost all of them appeared to be thin.

The polar bears normally live on Cape Schmidt, just 2.2 km (1.4 miles) from Ryrkaypiy.

WWF conservationist Mikhail Stishov said the area had been experiencing unusually warm weather.

“If the ice were strong enough the bears, or at least some of them, would have already gone to sea, where they could hunt for seals or sea hares,” he said.”

Anatoly Kochnev told Tass news agency that polar bear visits are increasingly frequent – and that just five years ago [2014], only about five bears got close to the village.

“I as a scientist believe [Ryrkaypiy village] should not remain there,” he said. “We try to control the situation, but nobody would want to think what may happen there in three to five years.”

Biologist Anatoly Kochnev, described in this pieces as “a polar bear specialist from the US-based Institute of the North” – i.e. the Institute of Biological Problems of the North – is the same Russian local who acted as scientific advisor to the Netflix film crew that lied about polar bears being involved in the deaths of walrus falling from a high cliff near Ryrkaypiy (see posts hereherehere, and here) and who earlier this week claimed dire consequences will surely come to a polar bear with the number “T-34” spray-painted on its side recently spotted in Chukotka by WWF members stationed there. Referring to a point only five years ago when there were few bears (2014) is a convenient bench mark that allows him to ignore the fact that the year before that, in 2013, the village had more than 40 bears to contend with, and that in 2006 there was also a large influx of bears (details below).

SEA ICE CONDITIONS IN CHUKOTKA

Sea ice charts from NSIDC Masie show that as of 4 December 2019 (the date of the BBC article) there was sea ice along the Chukotka coast. The archives show it has been there for weeks. It is not a wide expanse of ice but similar to the strip of newly-formed ice that forms along Hudson Bay which allows polar bears there to resume hunting in the fall. Polar bears need an ice-edge to hunt seals, not miles of unbroken ice. Ryrkaypiy is just east of the W180th parallel marked on the map that transects Wrangel Island.

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