Category Archives: Advocacy

USGS promotes another flawed polar bear model: GHG emissions still “primary threat”

It’s still based on the same flawed ecological premise as all previous models – it assumes that sea ice was a naturally stable habitat until human-caused global warming came along. It also uses slight-of-hand maneuvers to correlate declining summer sea ice and declining polar bear population numbers.


Just because they keep repeating the same hype doesn’t make it true.
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Polar bear behaviour gets the animal tragedy porn treatment – two new papers

Recently, several polar bear biologists have teamed up with photographers to get pictures of starving bears into the scientific literature – and picked up by the media, with mixed results.

For the second time in five years, polar bear biologist Ian Stirling has teamed up with a photographer to give unwarranted scientific credence to an anecdotal account of polar bear behaviour. It included a picture of a pitifully thin animal  (classic animal tragedy porn) and was framed to increase alarm over predicted effects of global warming. It got little media attention.

His Norwegian colleagues Jon Aars and Magnus Andersen have just done the same with a bear caught eating a white-beaked dolphin (photo above) – but this time the media took the bait.

Update 13 June 2015 – Information added on white-beaked dolphin distribution, sea ice conditions in 2014 and a correction. See below.
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Hudson Bay breakup date for 2015 will really depend on which definition you use

Is breakup imminent for Hudson Bay sea ice? Probably not, but this year more than ever, it will depend on how you define it. Hudson Bay concentratation_2015 June 1_CIS Despite a large patch of open water in western Hudson Bay (CIS chart above, for 1 June), there is still more than 70% sea ice coverage over the entire bay as of this week, when you use the standard breakup definition of 50% ice coverage (Fig. 1).  Ice remaining over the bay is mostly 90% or greater, as the chart above shows – which means there is still a lot of polar bear hunting habitat remaining.

Figure 1.

Figure 1. Sea ice coverage over Hudson Bay, as a percentage, for the week of 4 June, 1971-2015. Click to enlarge.

The interconnected region of Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, and southern Davis Strait (Fig. 2), what the Canadian Ice Service calls “Regional Hudson Bay,” is only slightly below average for the week of 4 June.

Regional Hudson Bay, week of 4 June.

Figure 2. Regional Hudson Bay, week of 4 June. Click to enlarge.

Since ice concentration is factored into breakup date calculation, a record-early breakup is simply not possible, since the previous record date (2 June, for 1990) has already passed. It might be an earlier than average breakup year but not very early, based on the 50% coverage definition (Fig. 3, below). This year, because of the unusual pattern of breakup of Hudson Bay ice, it will be critical for polar bears which definition of breakup is used – the old, 50% method (adopted because it’s what sea ice professionals used) or the newest one, which was determined to be most relevant to WHB polar bears (Cherry et al. 2013).

UPDATE 6 June 2015: I’ve added the forecast for ice conditions over the summer for North America (which for these folks includes June because it’s aimed at temperate NA, polar bear folks call June the end of spring), provided by the Canadian Ice Service: “Seasonal outlook for North American Arctic Waters issued by the North American Ice Service on 2 June 2015” [points of potential interest marked] The sea ice forecast (Table 1) for southwestern Hudson Bay (where most western and southern Hudson Bay polar bears come ashore) is for complete ice melt by 1 Aug, eight days later than the earliest date over the period 1968-2013. Time will tell if that’s what happens.
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University newspaper misleads readers on status of Western Hudson Bay polar bears

Even though polar bear experts admit there has been no trend in sea ice breakup or freeze-up dates since 2001 – and both Canadian and International experts say this subpopulation is stable – the public is still being misled about the status and condition of polar bears in Western Hudson Bay.

WHB status 2015 IUCN PBSG_PolarBearScience

The latest example of misinformation about Western Hudson Bay polar bears appears in a feature story carried by the campus newspaper of York University (Ontario, Canada), meant to highlight the work of biology graduate student Luana Sciullo.1
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Challenging polar bear fearmongering about Arctic sea ice extent for March 2015

Here are some facts to counter the misinformation and fearmongering being spread via twitter by a polar bear biologist who is getting carried away with his conservation activism.

Arctic Sea ice extent March greater than PB habitat_April 12 2015

Following up on my last post, I note that Arctic regions with sea ice but not polar bears were about 0.32 mkm2 below last year’s March average extent – which means the total ice decline from 2014 (0.4 mkm2) represents only a slight decline in polar bear habitat, most of which is in the Barents Sea (and due primarily to the state of the AMO, not global warming).

Sea ice extent for the Sea of Okhotsk and Baltic Sea combined (both areas without polar bears)1 were about 0.6 mkm2 below average this year for March. Average extent for March (according to NSIDC) is 15.5 mkm2, which means this year’s extent (14.4 mkm2) was 1.1 mkm2 below average, of which less than half (0.5 mkm2) was “lost” polar bear habitat.

IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group biologist Andrew Derocher has been saying this is a “huge loss for polar bears” (see below): rational analysis of the facts show it is not. Continue reading

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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