Category Archives: Advocacy

Amstrup grasps at straws to defend his polar-bears-are-doomed computer model

Polar bear activist Steven Amstrup made an astonishing statement in an interview earlier this week — he insisted that the current rate of warming in the Arctic is greater than anything polar bears have lived through before. He also said that optimistic comments on the future of polar bears made by geneticist Matt Cronin a few weeks ago were “incautious” and “misleading.”

Polar bear cubs in den wikipedia

Previously, I described how a new paper by Cronin and colleagues confirmed that genetic evidence indicates polar bears have been around long enough to have survived several past Interglacial periods that were warmer than today (and therefore, would have had virtually no summer ice). Cronin, not unreasonably, had some critical things to say about computer modeled predictions that polar bears could not survive in an Arctic without summer sea ice.

On Monday, the Anchorage Daily News gave Amstrup a forum to rebuke Cronin for his comments. A similar story was also carried by the Washington Post. [In the same ADN article, geneticist Charlotte Lindqvist, offered an outdated argument against future polar bear survival that I’ll deal with later]

Today, I’ll address Amstrup’s ridiculous assertion that the current rate of warming, attributed by him primarily to human activities rather than natural variation, is something polar bears have never experienced in their evolutionary history (a period of more than 400,000 years!).

Let’s start with the offending portion of the news item (published March 31, 2014):

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Oil money provided the foundation of polar bear research, now its “greenwash”

Much of the polar bear research in Canada and American Arctic in the 1970s-1980s was funded by oil and gas companies, because it was the right thing to do (and governments required it). Now, Greenpeace says providing such money is just oil company marketing, meant to make them look good.

Stirling et al 1993_oil acknowledgement

Stirling et al. 1993, oil funding acknowledgement for work in the Eastern Beaufort Sea.

Oil money helped fund the Ph.D. research of polar bear biologist and Polar Bears International spokesperson Steven Amstrup (Amstrup and Durner 1995), and made possible a number of other critical research projects in the early days of polar bear research that might not have been possible otherwise (Stirling et al. 1993; Stirling and Lunn 1997).

Yesterday, several media reports announced that ExxonMobil had advertised for a job counting polar bears in the Kara Sea (where very little research has been done), but a Greenpeace spokesperson called this an “obvious greenwash.

Have a look at the media reports and the oil funding acknowledgements from polar bear research papers (“References”) and see what you think.

Courtesy IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group.

Courtesy IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group.

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Southern Beaufort polar bear ‘decline’ & reduced cub survival touted in 2008 was invalid, PBSG now admits

It is now clear that the phenomenon of bears moving across Southern Beaufort Seapbsg logo subpopulation boundaries compromised the US decision to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ and the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) knows that was the case.

As I pointed out last week, the PBSG has admitted in their 2013 status table update (pdf here) that bears move around so much between the Chukchi Sea (CS), the Southern Beaufort (SB), and the Northern Beaufort (NB) subpopulations that major changes in the boundaries of the SB subpopulation are necessary (see Fig. 1 below).

Figure 1. From the paper by Amstrup and colleagues (2005) describing the effect that movement of bears across subpopulation boundaries has on setting harvest quotas – and population estimates. Southern Beaufort boundary is solid red, Chukchi Sea is dashed yellow and Northern Beaufort is dotted light blue. “Point Barrow” is Barrow, AK (well inside the SB boundary). Click to enlarge.

Figure 1. From the paper by Amstrup and colleagues (2005) describing the effect that movement of bears across subpopulation boundaries has on setting harvest quotas and population estimates. Southern Beaufort (SB) boundary is solid red, Chukchi Sea (CS) is dashed yellow and Northern Beaufort (NB) is dotted light blue. “Point Barrow” is Barrow, AK (well inside the SB boundary). Click to enlarge.

Well, that’s not really news — changes to the SB boundaries were promised by the PBSG back in 2009 (Obbard et al. 2010), based on research by Steven Amstrup and colleagues published in 2001 and 2005. But now, in an astonishing admission, the PBSG have acknowledged that the last population survey for the SB (Regehr, Amstrup and Stirling, 2006), which appeared to register a decline in population size and reduced cub survival over time, did not take known movements of bears into account as it should have done.

In other words, that 2006 study almost certainly did not indicate bears dying due to reduced summer sea ice in the SB, as biologists said at the time — and which they presented as evidence that polar bears should be listed by the ESA as ‘threatened’ — but reflected capture of bears that were never part of the SB subpopulation and so moved out of the region.

As the PBSG said about the 2006 estimate:

“…it is important to note that there is the potential for un-modeled spatial heterogeneity in mark-recapture sampling that could bias survival and abundance estimates.” [my emphasis]

Spatial heterogeneity” means that the sampled bears could have come from more than one population, a possibility which violates a critical requirement of the statistics used to generate the population and survival estimates. “Un-modeled” means that the ‘movement of bears’ problem was not factored into the mathematical models that generated the 2006 population size and survival estimates as it should have been.

Ecologist Jim Steele pointed some of this out in his book and his guest post last year, so it’s not news that this was done.

What’s shocking is that the PBSG have now admitted that the ‘movement of bears’ issue essentially invalidates the 2006 population estimate and the much-touted ‘reduced survival of cubs.’ The reduced survival of cubs data from that SB study was a critical component of the argument that US bears were already being negatively impacted by global warming and thus, should be listed as ‘threatened’ under the ESA (US Fish & Wildlife Service 2008).

Since the population decline and reduced survival is now acknowledged to be unfounded — and perhaps deliberately so — I ask you this: will a new SB survey — soon to be released by the same lead author (Eric Regehr) — undo the broken trust in US and PBSG polar bear biologists? Continue reading

Polar bear status changes in 2013 deconstructed, with a map to the good news

You can’t figure out what’s going on with status updates from the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) without deconstructing the spin and the 2013 update is no exception. Here’s my travel guide, with a map, to the good news.

Polar Bear Subpopulations 19_2013 updates_March 20 2014_sm

I’ve finally had a chance to go through all of the details provided with the 2013 PBSG status table (pdf here). It’s just about all good news, once you wade through the spin. Numbers aside, out of the 13 populations for which some kind of data exist, five populations are now classified by the PBSG as ‘stable’ (two more than 2009), one is still increasing, and three have been upgraded from ‘declining’ to ‘data deficient’ (I explain below why this is a promotion).

That leaves four that are still considered ‘declining’- two of those judgments are based primarily on concerns of overhunting, and one is based on a statistically insignificant decline that may not be valid and is being re-assessed (and really should have been upgraded to ‘data deficient’). That leaves only one population – Western Hudson Bay – where PBSG biologists tenaciously blame global warming for all changes to polar bear biology, and even then, the data supporting that conclusion is still not available.

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Foxe Basin aerial survey a watershed moment for polar bear research, Part 2

As I outlined earlier this week, Canadian Inuit objected so strenuously to routine mark-recapture methods used by polar bear biologists during the early days of a Foxe Basin population study in 2008 that the work was abandoned and an aerial survey done instead.

In this post, I’ll examine how the polar bear biologists involved reacted to that crisis, which they called a “control of research” issue.

In a published version of a conference paper, co-authored by two of the original investigators of the Foxe Basin mark-recapture study, Lily Peacock and Andrew Derocher (Peacock et al. 2011:374), had this to say:

Control of research is a developing source of conflict. In recent years, some permits for management-oriented research on polar bears were denied by the Government of Nunavut, local hunting and trapping organizations in the Northwest Territories, and by Makivik Corporation in Quebec. Furthermore, in a 2009 resolution, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami opposed the capture of polar bears throughout Canada (available by request from http://www.itk.ca), even though the application of physical marks is one of the most effective methods of population estimation. Co-management is particularly difficult in Nunavut because of the large number of subpopulations (12), which makes it difficult to fund and conduct research.” [my bold]

They raised an interesting point – since the Government of Nunavut has the power to insist biologists do more than reiterate that their way of counting bears is the only acceptable way, and because the government can deny permits to projects that don’t measure up, it can lock out traditional polar bear research for virtually all of Canada (the vast majority of Canada’s 13 subpopulations are in Nunavut, see Fig. 1), especially since aboriginal organizations in the Northwest Territories and Quebec have followed Nunavut’s lead.

Figure 1. Territory covered by the Government of Nunavut (top, Wikipedia) and the 13 polar bear subpopulations in Canada (bottom, Environment Canada).

Figure 1. Territory covered by the Government of Nunavut (top, Wikipedia) and the 13 polar bear subpopulations in Canada (bottom, Environment Canada).

That means if polar bear researchers can’t find a way to make their research mesh with Inuit concerns, they’ll be out of work in Canada. Let’s take a look at their approach and see how well it worked for them — explaining in part the new prominence of aerial surveys for population assessments. Continue reading

Tranquilizing polar bears and meat tainted with drugs

This follow-up to my last post has some new information about drug residues remaining in polar bear meat after the animals have been tranquilized.

Chukchi male 1240 lbs labeled Durner 2008

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Amstrup’s comment on his starving polar bear article and my response

Steve Amstrup has left a comment below his January 20, 2014 “starving polar bears’ article at The Conversation, which I discussed in my last post.

I’ve copied his comment below and the response to his comment that I left this morning, which is copied below his. See the entire comment sequence here.
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Amstrup repeats starving polar bear nonsense, features “Ursus bogus”

As if on cue just before an important polar bear announcement, Steven Amstrup, full time employee of Polar Bears International (PBI), is crying “starving polar bears” yet again, with a laughable twist.

Over at “The Conversation” (a university supported forum for academics), in a piece titled “Cold weather in the US no solace for starving polar bears,” Amstrup uses his adjunct affiliation at University of Wyoming to unleash a bit of unpaid advertising for PBI’s alarmist message (I put it this way because while Amstrup  does disclose his affiliation at PBI, he is more than just an affiliated member, he is their paid spokesperson).

Ironically, the headline photo (Fig. 1) is the notorious “Ursus bogus,” the photoshopped image used by the journal Science back in May 2010 to feature an article on the integrity of science, It was quickly exposed by Tim Blair at The Telegraph (also covered at WUWT), and the journal was obliged to acknowledge the error, replace the image and issue a correction.

In this case, commenter Brad Keyes at The Conversation defends the use of the “Ursus bogus” image with this astonishing statement [UPDATE Jan. 25/14: it has since transpired that this was almost certainly meant to be satire]:

The problem is, only sensational exaggeration makes the kind of story that will get politicians’—and readers’—attention. So, yes, climate scientists might exaggerate, but in today’s world, this is the only way to assure any political action and thus more federal financing to reduce the scientific uncertainty.

Figure 1. The headline photo from Steven Amstrup’s article at The Conversation. This infamous “Ursus bogus” image (for sale at IStock photos, listed under “Global warming images”), says “This image is a photoshop design. Polarbear, ice floe, ocean and sky are real, they were just not together in the way they are now.”

Figure 1. The headline photo from Steven Amstrup’s article at The Conversation. This infamous “Ursus bogus” image (for sale at IStock photos, listed under “Global warming images), says “This image is a photoshop design. Polarbear, ice floe, ocean and sky are real, they were just not together in the way they are now.”

However, we now know that Amstrup is crying wolf — summer sea ice has been declining despite a hiatus in global warming and unusual numbers of polar bears are not starving. He seems to think that if he keeps repeating his Chicken Little message (with nary a recent photo of an actual starving polar bear) he will convince more people to believe him and donate to PBI. It’s his job to do so of course, so he’s not likely to stop. [pardon my mixed metaphor – Amstrup, if you recall, prefers a Titanic metaphor]
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Polar bear gives birth in Munich zoo, with photos and video

Fabulous photos of 3 week old twin polar bear cubs (born December 9, 2013), have been released by the Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich, Germany. There’s video of the births as well. The newborn cubs are so tiny  — it’s hard to imagine them being born in the dead of winter in a snow den!

PB newborn with mother Munich Zoo Dec 2013

All but one of the photos shown here, including the one above, are of the newborns at 3 weeks of age. The one below is a screen cap taken from the video of the birth, and is the only one that shows the cubs just hours old. They seem to have grown a bit in 3 weeks.

PB newborns birth_11PolarBearTwins2_Zoo screen cap

From this January 1, 2014 account (Hellabrunn Zoo Welcomes Polar Bear Twins”):

“On December 9, a Polar Bear named Giovanna gave birth to two cubs at Munich’s Hellabrunn Zoo. Both births were seen on cameras installed in the birthing den and the connecting corridor to the main den. This is remarkable on two counts: for both births, Giovanna positioned herself so that she was directly in the cameras’ field of view. Secondly, this is the first time that a Polar Bear birth has been filmed in color worldwide!

The cubs were born at 08:39 and 09:43 respectively, to parents Giovanna (7) and Yogi (14). The zoo’s director, Dr. Andreas Knieriem, enthused, “It is as if we were there live watching the labour and birth of a Polar Bear and, as if that weren’t enough, Giovanna showed us not one, but two very different births!”

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Biggest PBS stories of 2013 involved polar bear experts fudging data

The two top posts I published this year had one thing in common – they exposed polar bear researchers dodging full disclosure of scientific information in a way that outraged a lot of people. These two posts still draw a regular crowd of readers.

#1. “Global population of polar bears has increased by 2,650-5,700 since 2001” (published July 15, 2013) – 8,786 views as of December 30.

#2. “Ian Stirling’s latest howler: the polar bear who died of climate change” (August 7, 2013) – 7,872 views as of December 30.

[Note that #3 was the summary essay, “Ten good reasons not to worry about polar bears” (February 26, 2013), at 5,491 views. Dr. Matt Ridley wrote a foreword introducing that essay (“We should be listening to Susan Crockford”) that appeared in Canada's Financial Post]

On this last day of the year, I thought I’d make an attempt to put these results into a wider perspective.

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