The Polar Wildlife Report exhibits that Arctic and Antarctic animals have been doing effectively in 2022

From polar bear science

Susan Crockford

The Polar Wildlife Report is a peer-reviewed summary of the latest information about polar animals compared to historical records, based on a 2022 review of scientific literature and media reports. It is aimed at a wide audience including scientists, teachers, students, decision makers and the general public interested in animals living in Arctic and Antarctic habitats including polar bears, killer whales, krill and penguins.

Polar wildlife was thriving in 2022

London, February 27: A prominent Canadian zoologist says Arctic and Antarctic wildlife continued to thrive despite predictions of an impending 2022 disaster.

In the Polar Wildlife Report 2022, published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) on International Polar Bear Day, zoologist Dr. Susan Crockford that ice-dependent species in the Arctic and Antarctic show no signs of impending population crashes due to polar bear shortages on sea ice.

Crockford’s report shows that in 2022 there were no reports that would suggest polar wildlife would suffer from reduced sea ice extent: no starving polar bears or walruses, no dead seals thrown off the beach, no significant decline in the Number of large whales, no drowned penguin chicks.

While some Antarctic penguin species and the Antarctic minke whale appear to have suffered recent declines in abundance, these were unrelated to Southern Ocean sea ice coverage. Similarly, in the Arctic, a recent 27% decline in polar bear numbers in western Hudson Bay was found to be unrelated to sea ice conditions over the past five years.

Contrary to all expectations, the critical Antarctic winter sea ice has been increasing since 1979. While sea ice experts have long raised concerns that computer models of future Antarctic sea ice cover have serious flaws, biologists worry about the future of ice-dependent Emperor penguins and Antarctic krill continue to use them to justify alarming predictions.

Crockford concludes: “In both the Arctic and Antarctic, less summer sea ice has led to higher primary productivity, which in turn has led to more food for all animals. This partly explains why polar wildlife continues to thrive, even in areas with greatly reduced summer sea ice coverage.”

Crockford, SJ 2023. The Polar Wildlife Report. Global Warming Policy Foundation Briefing 63, London. pdf here.

Important Findings

  • In 2022, there were no reports that would indicate polar wildlife would suffer from reduced sea ice extent. In both the Arctic and Antarctic, less summer sea ice and increased primary productivity have resulted in more food for all animals over the past two decades, partly explaining why polar wildlife is thriving.
  • Arctic summer sea ice has been declining since 1979, but has shown an overall flat trend since 2007; coverage was again significantly below average in the Barents and Chukchi Seas in 2022, where sustained high primary productivity has provided abundant food resources for wildlife; Winter ice cover in 2022 was slightly less than in 2020, but has shown a relatively flat trend overall since 2011.
  • Ice-dependent polar bears worldwide currently number probably around 32,000, with a wide range of potential bugs; A 2021 survey of polar bears in western Hudson Bay found a 27% population decline since 2016, but this did not correlate with the lack of sea ice. A genetically distinct subpopulation of polar bears has been discovered thriving in south-east Greenland, and the bears of western Barents Sea (Norway) are still doing well despite the deepest summer sea-ice loss of any Arctic region.
  • Atlantic walrus numbers are still small but are recovering in the Barents Sea and eastern North America. A new population estimate of the Pacific walrus in 2019 shows that more than 200,000 exist in the Chukchi/Bering Sea area. More killer whales have been reported visiting the eastern Canadian Arctic, and bowhead whales are thriving in Alaska and the western Canadian Arctic.
  • The extent of Antarctic sea ice has changed little since 1979: vital winter ice has increased slightly overall, while summer ice has decreased slightly (with the lowest extent in December 2022), while total primary productivity has increased. A new sea-ice forecasting model acknowledges past shortcomings and predicts future decline by 2050 at the earliest.
  • Krill is a crucial prey for many wildlife species (particularly large numbers of great whales and penguins) living or feeding in the Southern Ocean. Future intensification of commercial fishing for krill (mainly to feed farmed fish) is probably the greatest threat to local wildlife conservation given recent geopolitical tensions over effective fisheries management.
  • The number of fin, blue, humpback and southern right whales feeding in Antarctic waters in summer has increased in recent years, and although minke whale numbers appear to have declined, an estimated 500,000 individuals still visit the region .
  • Killer whales (orcas) are the largest predators in the Southern Ocean and most populations appear to be thriving. The IUCN lists all ice-dependent seals in Antarctica as ‘Least Concern’.
  • Several albatross and northern petrel species are considered “Vulnerable” by the IUCN due to deadly interactions with longline trawlers fishing for Antarctic hake (Patagonian sea bass), while overfishing of this cod-like species and the herring-like Antarctic silverfish is also a concern.
  • Emperor penguins, the largest and most ice-dependent penguin species, were listed as “Vulnerable” on the US List of Threatened Species in 2022 but remain according to the IUCN Red List due to the size of their breeding population and the recognized uncertainty of future sea ice forecasts.

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