The Polar Wildlife Report is a peer reviewed summary of the most recent information on polar animals, relative to historical records, based on a review of 2022 scientific literature and media reports. It is intended for a wide audience, including scientists, teachers, students, decision-makers and the general public interested in animals that live in Arctic and Antarctic habitats, including polar bears, killer whales, krill, and penguins.
Polar wildlife was thriving in 2022
A prominent Canadian zoologist says that Arctic and Antarctic wildlife continued to thrive in 2022 despite predictions of impending catastrophe.
In the Polar Wildlife Report 2022, published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) on International Polar Bear Day, zoologist Dr. Susan Crockford explains that ice-dependent species in the Arctic and Antarctic show no sign of impending population crashes due to lack of sea ice.
Crockford’s report reveals that there were no reports in 2022 that would suggest that polar wildlife is suffering as a result of reduced sea-ice extent: no starving polar bears or walrus, no beach-cast dead seals, no marked declines in great whale numbers, no drowned penguin chicks.
While a few Antarctic penguin species and the Antarctic minke whale appear to have suffered a recent decline in abundance, these were unrelated to sea-ice cover in the Southern Ocean. 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 last five years.
Indeed, contrary to all expectations, critical Antarctic winter sea ice has been increasing since 1979. While sea-ice experts have long voiced concerns that computer models of future Antarctic sea ice coverage are seriously flawed, biologists concerned about the future of ice-dependent emperor penguins and Antarctic krill have continued to use them to justify alarmist predictions.
Crockford concludes: “In both the Arctic and Antarctic, less summer sea ice has meant increased primary productivity, which in turn has meant more food for all animals. This explains in part why polar wildlife continues to thrive, even in areas with much reduced summer sea-ice coverage.”
Crockford, S.J. 2023. The Polar Wildlife Report. Global Warming Policy Foundation Briefing 63, London. pdf here.
- There were no reports in 2022 that would suggest polar wildlife is suffering as a result of reduced sea-ice extent; in both the Arctic and Antarctic, less summer sea ice and increased primary productivity over the last two decades has meant more food for all animals, which explains in part why polar wildlife has been thriving.
- Arctic sea ice in summer has declined since 1979, but has had an overall flat trend since 2007; coverage was again well below average in the Barents and Chukchi Seas in 2022, where continued high primary productivity has provided abundant food resources for wildlife; winter ice coverage in 2022 was slightly lower than 2020 but overall has shown a relatively flat trend since 2011.
- Ice-dependent polar bears worldwide probably now number about 32,000, with a wide range of potential error; a survey of Western Hudson Bay polar bears in 2021 generated a population decline of 27% since 2016, but this did not correlate with lack of sea ice. A genetically-distinct subpopulation of polar bears was discovered thriving in SE Greenland, and western Barents Sea bears (Norway) are still doing well despite the most profound summer sea-ice loss of all Arctic regions.
- Atlantic walrus numbers are still low, but recovering in the Barents Sea and eastern North America. A new population estimate of Pacific walrus in 2019 reveals more than 200,000 exist in the Chukchi/Bering Sea area. More killer whales were reported visiting the Eastern Canadian Arctic, and in Alaska and the Western Canadian Arctic, bowhead whales are thriving.
- Antarctic sea ice extent has barely changed since 1979: vital winter ice has slightly increased overall while summer ice has slightly declined (with its lowest extent in December 2022), all while overall primary productivity has increased. A new sea ice predictive model acknowledges previous flaws and does not predict a future decline until 2050 at the earliest.
- Krill are crucial prey for many species of wildlife (especially huge numbers of great whales and penguins) that live or feed in the Southern Ocean. Future intensification of commercial fishing of krill (largely to feed farmed fish) is likely the largest conservation threat to local wildlife, given recent geopolitical tensions over effective fisheries management.
- Numbers of fin, blue, humpback, and southern right whales feeding in Antarctic waters in summer have increased in recent years, and while minke whale numbers appear to have declined, an estimated 500,000 individuals still frequent the region.
- Killer whales (orcas) are the top predator 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 large petrel species are considered ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN due to deadly interactions with long-line trawlers fishing for Antarctic toothfish (Patagonian sea bass), while over-fishing 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 classified as ‘Threatened’ on the US Endangered Species List in 2022 but remain ‘Near Threatened’ according to the IUCN Red List because of the large size of their breeding population and the acknowledged uncertainty of future sea-ice predictions.