Taylor, M., 2006 - Toronto Star
Stand of our Wild Polar Bears
May 1, 2006
by Dr. Mitchell Taylor
Tim Flannery is one of Australia's best-known scientists and authors.
That doesn't mean what he says is correct or accurate. That was clearly
demonstrated when he recently ventured into the subject of climate
change and polar bears. Climate change is threatening to drive polar
bears into extinction within 25 years, according to Flannery. That is a
startling conclusion and certainly is a surprising revelation to the
polar bear researchers who work here and to the people who live here.
We really had no idea.
The evidence for climate change effects on polar bears described by
Flannery is incorrect. He says polar bears typically gave birth to
triplets, but now they usually have just one cub. That is wrong.
All research and traditional knowledge shows that triplets, though they
do occur, are very infrequent and are by no means typical. Polar bears
generally have two cubs — sometimes three and sometimes one. He says
the bears' weaning time has risen to 18 months from 12. That is wrong.
The weaning period has not changed. Polar bears worldwide have a
three-year reproduction cycle, except for one part of Hudson Bay for a
period in the mid-1980s when the cycle was shorter.
One polar bear population (western Hudson Bay) has declined since the
1980s and the reproductive success of females in that area seems to
have decreased. We are not certain why, but it appears that ecological
conditions in the mid-1980s were exceptionally good.
Climate change is having an effect on the west Hudson population of
polar bears, but really, there is no need to panic. Of the 13
populations of polar bears in Canada, 11 are stable or increasing in
number. They are not going extinct, or even appear to be affected at
It is noteworthy that the neighbouring population of southern Hudson
Bay does not appear to have declined, and another southern population
(Davis Strait) may actually be over-abundant.
I understand that people who do not live in the north generally have
difficulty grasping the concept of too many polar bears in an area.
People who live here have a pretty good grasp of what that is like to
have too many polar bears around.
This complexity is why so many people find the truth less entertaining
than a good story. It is entirely appropriate to be concerned about
climate change, but it is just silly to predict the demise of polar
bears in 25 years based on media-assisted hysteria.
Dr. Mitchell Taylor, Polar Bear Biologist,
Department of the Environment, Government of Nunavut, Igloolik, Nunavut
Dr. Mitchell Taylor
Government of Nunavut, Department of Environment - Wildlife Division
PO Box 209
Igloolik, (NU) X0A 0H0
Tel: (867) -934-2051 Fax: 867-934-2058 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org