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Fact-Check: David Attenborough Is Wrong About Polar Bear Extinction

Susan Crockford, Polar Bear Science

In a new book and Netflix film, Sir David Attenborough again presents false information about future polar bear survival and walrus deaths.

An excerpt from Attenborough’s forthcoming book (A Life On Our Planet) has been published in the Daily Mail (12 September), called “End of the polar bear by the 2030s, another major pandemic in the 2080s… and a sixth mass extinction by 2100: SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH reveals how those born today could witness these scenarios unless we save the planet“. 

As his upcoming documentary has the same title as the book, this excerpt forewarns of what’s in the film. Attenborough falsely claims that by 2030 – a short 10 years from now – polar bears will be on their way to extinction and again flogs the lie, exposed last year, that walrus falling to their deaths in Russia a few years ago was due to lack of sea ice.


From an article authored by Attenborough (12 September 2020, Daily Mail) about what to expect for polar bears by 2030, with callouts to my rebuttal comments in square brackets []:

Those born today could witness the following scenarios: 2030s Floods, drought… and polar bears die out …In 2011, when we filmed Frozen Planet, the world was already 0.8C warmer on average than it was when I was born in 1926.  That is a speed of change that exceeds any that has happened in the past 10,000 years. As the ice-free period lengthened [in 2011], scientists detected a worrying trend. Pregnant females, drained of their reserves, were now giving birth to smaller cubs. It is quite possible that one year, the summer would be just that little bit longer, and the cubs born that year will be so small that they cannot survive their first polar winter. That whole population of polar bears would then crash. [1] 2040s Lands turn to mud and a CO₂ calamity

… The warning signs of such a catastrophe [in the Arctic] can already be seen.

Walruses live largely on clams that grow on a few particular patches of the sea floor in the Arctic. In between fishing sessions, they haul themselves out on to the sea ice to rest. But those resting places have now melted away. Instead, they have to swim to the beaches on distant coasts.

There are only a few suitable places. So two-thirds of the population of Pacific walrus, tens of thousands of them, now assemble on one single beach. Crushingly overcrowded, some clamber up slopes and find themselves at the tops of cliffs. Out of water, their eyesight is very poor but the smell of the sea at the foot of the cliff is unmistakable. So they try to reach it by the shortest route. The vision of a three-ton walrus tumbling to its death is not easily forgotten. You don’t have to be a naturalist to know that something has gone catastrophically wrong.[2]


1. False. The paper describing the newest model does not say that any population of polar bears would crash or ‘die out’ by 2030 (Molnar et al. 2020), only that one or two might begin to be affected by that date. The model suggests Southern Hudson Bay bears are the most vulnerable and could see poor cub survival as early as 2030. However, the total collapse of the population would take decades.  I have already written about this new model, which is scientifically implausible and based on bad assumptions and out-of-date information; an earlier model has been shown to have failed spectacularly (Crockford 2019).

2. Nonsense. This walrus-falling-to-their-death due to lack of sea ice lie was exposed last year – why is Attenborough still pedalling this twaddle? Walruses falling to their deaths is a natural phenomenon, see the video below.

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