Polar bears and, to a lesser extent, penguins were the icons of doomsayers saying both animals would soon become extinct because of global warming. However, recent evidence, actual counts and estimates, show populations of both animals are growing.
The Inuit population of Canada’s Nunavut Territory say that “Scientists do a quick study one to two weeks in a helicopter, and don’t see all the polar bears. We’re getting totally different stories about the bear numbers on a daily basis from hunters and harvesters on the ground.” The Inuit say that polar bear populations within their territory is stable and on the rise. During the last ten years, the growing population has become a real problem according to the Inuits, “families enjoying outdoor activities must be on the look-out for bears. Many locals invite along other hunters for protection.” (Source).
Doomsayers assume that polar bears cannot adapt to changing conditions, but the bears have been around for a long time, perhaps as much as 600,000 years. That means they have survived several periods warmer than now. For instance, fossils evidence shows that polar bears survived the Eemian period 125,000 years ago when it was warm enough that hippos lived where London is now. (Alaska Science Forum). Within the last 11,000 years, polar bears survived the twin peaks of the Holocene Climatic Optimum which peaked at about 10,000 years ago near Alaska and between 8,500 to 5,000 years ago near Greenland. Proxy evidence shows that global temperatures were about 2.5 C warmer than now in most places and up to 7 C warmer in northern Russia.
Polar bear declines in the recent past was due in large part to over hunting which has now been controlled. The history of polar bears shows that they are highly adaptable to changing natural conditions, even conditions of very low sea ice. By the way, current Arctic sea ice extend is higher than it has been in the last five years and slightly higher than the 1979-2006 average for this time of years, see red line in graph below.
“A new study using satellite mapping technology reveals there are twice as many emperor penguins in Antarctica than previously thought.” (ScienceDaily). “An international team of scientists describe how they used Very High Resolution satellite images to estimate the number of penguins at each colony around the coastline of Antarctica.” The survey counted 595,000 birds.
In the Falkland Islands, Gentoo penguin numbers are also increasing. “The Gentoo population now estimated to be 132,321 breeding pairs, the largest number reported since the first estimate was generated in 1933.” Also in the Falklands, Rockhopper penguins have fared less well but are recovering. The Rockhopper population which was estimated at 1.5 million in the 1930s, had been decimated in 1986 due to starvation and by an algal bloom in 2002. Now, “Rockhopper penguins, which the Falklands is estimated to be home to some 36% of the global population … now estimated to be 319,163 (18,503 breeding pairs) seemed to have recovered to the 2000 estimate…”