Polar bear consumption of terrestrial foods – new paper misses the point

A new paper by polar bear biologists (Rode et al. 2015) argues that terrestrial (land-based) foods are not important to polar bears now and will not be in the future – a conclusion I totally agree with – but they miss the point entirely regarding the importance of this issue.

Fat bears on land in the Southern Beaufort, Sue Miller photo, well-prepared for a brief summer fast.

Whatever food polar bears consume in the summer – whether they are on land or on the ice – doesn’t really matter. What matters is how many fat-rich seals they can consume between March and June each year. The fat put on in late winter/spring from gorging on baby seals carries polar bears over the summer, no matter where they spend it.

USGS polar bear biologist Karyn Rode and colleagues (press release here) have tried to frame this issue as one about future survival of polar bears in the face of declining sea ice. However, the fact that polar bears in the Chukchi Sea and Southern Davis Strait are thriving despite dramatic declines in summer sea ice (aka an extended open-water season), proves my point and disproves their premise. Bears in these regions are doing extremely well – contrary to all predictions – because they have had abundant baby seals to eat during the spring (see here and here).

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US biologists used same flawed models for listing walrus and polar bears as ‘threatened’

More bad science: US biologists successfully used a scientifically flawed model to get polar bears listed as ‘threatened’ and thus emboldened, went on to do the same for walrus.

Walruses_USFWS photo_030515_March 2015

The intricate US Geological Survey model of ‘expert opinion’ that was used to support the listing of polar bears as ‘threatened’ under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been soundly rejected by the world’s leading conservation organization, the IUCN,1 which has has tightened its rules for using “future conditions” (e.g., effects of global warming) in generating Red List assessments. That IUCN condemnation means the USGS model was never “the best available science” for evaluating the status of polar bears  ̶  it was (and still is) substandard, inadequate science that makes a mockery of serious conservation efforts.

However, not only has this flawed model continued to be used by the USGS for polar bears, it has also been used to assess the conservation status of Pacific walrus, which are now officially “candidates” for being listed as ‘threatened’ (US Fish and Wildlife Service 2011).2

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Polar bear habitat update – even more ice this week in the Barents Sea

Polar bear habitat is close to average for this date all over the Arctic this week. Barents Sea pack ice has increased substantially since last week and the ice in Eastern Canada is still well above average (and higher than 1979-early 1980s). Arctic ice has grown since a preemptive call for “the lowest maximum extent on record” was made by NSIDC last week — there is now at least as much ice for this date as there was in 2011 and almost as much as there was last year (2014).

Polar Bear Breaks Ice

Southern Davis Strait polar bears are out feeding on the glut of harp seals in the pack ice off Labrador and Newfoundland (discussed in detail here). One or more bears strayed a bit from the pack and ended up swimming around near the Hibernia oil platform (not far from the ice edge, although the CBC reports didn’t mention that “minor” fact), discussed in this recently updated post (with maps).

Harp seal female with nursing pup, DFO Canada.

Harp seal female with nursing pup, DFO Canada.

Ice maps and graphs below: it’s worth a look.
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Polar bear visiting Hibernia oil platform off Newfoundland was not far from sea ice

Perhaps the folks on the platform couldn’t see it, but sea ice wasn’t far off on Monday when a polar bear came to visit the Hibernia oil platform southeast of St. John’s, Newfoundland. See the map below (composite from Heritage Newfoundland and Canadian Ice Service):

Hibernia platform and sea ice at 23 March 2015_Polarbearscience
UPDATE 26 March 2015: Ian Stirling has added his expert comment on this incident, see below.

UPDATE 28 March 2015: Newfoundland’s Director of Wildlife has commented on this incident, see below.
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Hypocrisy of Arctic biologists: fossil fuels for me but not for thee

It takes a special kind of gall for biologists to plead for more funds to count and study Arctic marine mammals they claim are endangered by the use of fossil fuels, when their proposed field work cannot be done without the use of fossil fuels.

Polar_Bear_Biologist_USFWS_working_with_a_Bear_Oct 24 2001 Amstrup photo

A new Arctic “policy” paper was promoted last week by academia (press release here), blogged about by those who were unimpressed (“Another ‘polar bears are in trouble’ story….yawwwn”) and highlighted by a few who were impressed (the magazines SCIENCE: Huge data gaps cloud fate of Arctic mammals” and SMITHSONIAN (“It’s Hard to Protect Arctic Mammals When We Don’t Know How Many Live There”) — but covered by only one media outlet that I could find (e.g., here).

The paper is a decidedly odd mix: a plea for more research funds for increased monitoring of animal populations plus strident advocacy for regulating “greenhouse gases.”

The authors repeatedly used the phrase “greenhouse gases” in their paper (seven times) but did not mention “fossil fuels” even once, despite the clear relationship between fossil fuel use and the phenomenon known as anthropogenic global warming (AGW), examples here and here. Are they self-deluded — or deliberately disingenuous about their own contributions to a problem they insist is the greatest threat to survival of Arctic marine mammals?
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Polar bear habitat update – more spring sea ice around Svalbard than 2014 & 2012

Polar bear habitat for the last week of March is well above average in eastern Canada for the second year in a row. The very low extent of ice in the Sea of Okhotsk – which has contributed strongly to the low maximum extent this year – is irrelevant to our discussion, since no polar bears live there.

Polar_Bear_male_Regehr photo_March 21 2010_labeled

There is a bit more concentrated ice around Svalbard than last year (or in 2012), although ice in the Barents Sea in general is still below average due to the state of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). The state of the AMO and its effects on Barents Sea polar bear sea ice habitat has nothing to do with global warming: it’s a cycle that has been documented for centuries (Miles et al. 2014).

Still, there is plenty enough sea ice for polar bear hunting: this is the beginning of the critical feeding time for all polar bears (see here and here), but especially for the survival of new cubs-of-the-year, so I have a few words about Western Hudson Bay cubs below.

Have a look for yourself.
Update: Added 20 March 2015, comparison maps from Cryosphere Today for 2006 vs. 2015.
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Supporting document for Canada’s polar bear status maps reveal surprises

My request to Environment Canada in early December 2014 for the documents supporting their polar bear status maps has finally generated results.

In an email dated 2 March 2015, I received the document produced by the EC Polar Bear Technical Committee (PBTC). I waited to see if it would be appended to the webpage where the maps were posted last year (reported here and here). However, as of today, that has not happened, so I am posting it here. There are some rather striking differences that may surprise you.

UPDATE 22 March 2015: A copy of the letter from the Director General of the Canadian Wildlife Service that accompanied the document below, which I forgot to include, is here. It states that the once a new status table has been compiled (provided below), “it is reviewed by the Polar Bear Administrative Committee and then becomes a public document.” The implication is that the reviewed document has not yet been produced.
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