Sunday, July 8th 2012, 6:46 AM EDT
SIR – In your special report on the Arctic (“The melting north”, June 16th) you said polar bears are “struggling” and it is “nonsense” that they are thriving. Anything other than a cursory reading of the data shows no such thing.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates, polar bear numbers are at least twice as high as in the 1960s. Of the eight populations said to be decreasing, the official data table and map produced by the Polar Bear Specialist Group shows that two are only “thought” or “believed” to be declining entirely due to hunting; four are in decline only according to computer models, despite some claims by “traditional ecological knowledge” (ie, locals) that they are thriving; one has more than doubled but is now said to be “currently declining” because of crowding; and one showed a real decline that has recently been reversed. Meanwhile, the four populations you described as unknown include the huge Barents Sea population, which has seen dramatic increase in sightings, damage to huts and devastation of barnacle goose colonies on the west coast of Svalbard, all prima facie evidence of “thriving”. There is a strong smell of “policy-based evidence making” here.
Since the 1970s the population of white whales around Svalbard has increased, as have walrus and barnacle geese numbers. Protection from hunting has had, and is likely to have, a much bigger impact on Arctic wildlife than climate trends.