Category Archives: Conservation Status

Low genetic diversity will not make polar bears more vulnerable to extinction

You’ve probably heard the argument: animal populations that have been through a major decline in numbers often have such low genetic diversity that they are extremely vulnerable to subsequent extinction.

Photo credit USGS

Photo credit USGS

In an interview in late March regarding a new genetic paper on polar bear evolution (by Matt Cronin and colleagues), polar bear biologist and Polar Bears International spokesperson Steve Amstrup made a ridiculous statement: that polar bears have never experienced a rate of warming like they’ve seen over the last 30 years. I countered that easily here.

In that same interview about the Cronin et al. paper, fellow geneticist Charlotte Lindqvist offered an outdated argument against future polar bear survival that is as easy to refute as Amstrup’s “unprecedented rate of warming” nonsense.

I didn’t have time to deal with it back in April [where has the time gone?] but want to get back to it now because it’s important: there is lots of evidence to support my contention that polar bears are not more vulnerable to extinction just because they have low genetic diversity.
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W Hudson Bay mark-recapture studies of polar bears were invalid, says peer-reviewed study

“Our results suggest that mark–recapture estimates may have been negatively biased due to limited spatial sampling. We observed large numbers of bears summering in southeastern WH, an area not regularly sampled by mark–recapture.” Stapleton et al. 2014.

Polar bear at Wapusk National Park (just south of Churchill) in August 2011. Courtesy Parks Canada.

Polar bear at Wapusk National Park in August 2011. Courtesy Parks Canada.

We’ve seen the results of this 2011 study before, in government report format. But now it’s been revamped, peer-reviewed and published in a respected scientific journal – it actually came out in February, without fanfare, but I’ve only just come across it.

Some excerpts below, with conclusions that should raise some eyebrows.

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Are Polar Bears Really Endangered?

Christina Wu at the Urban Times (July 3, 2014) recently asked this question. She came up with a surprisingly balanced argument but some predictable responses from IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) biologists. As a consequence, she overlooked some critical facts that make a big difference to the answer.

Figure 1. Are polar bears really endangered? The US Fish and Wildlife Service thinks so, but only because Steven Amstrup, based on a computer model projecting sea ice out to 2050, said so (Amstrup et al. 2007). This information has been used by the Center for Biological Diversity and other NGOs, like WWF and Polar Bears International (where Amstrup is now employed), to solicit donations.

Figure 1. Predictions of polar bear population declines by 2050 are being used by the Center for Biological Diversity, WWF and Polar Bears International to solicit donations.

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Polar Bear Specialist Group just had another secret meeting

Well, well, well — it looks the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) just had itself another secret meeting with some extra special guests.

pbsg logoPolar bear scientists and PBSG-approved activists got together a few weeks ago (June 9-13), with no notice beforehand, to continue discussions how (sic) to solve issues of future capacity.”

This was their “second intersessional members-only meeting in a row” (the first one was in October 2012), but they still haven’t had their regular, now long-overdue, “working meeting.” [they had the last one in 2009].

I came upon a notice about this meeting on the PBSG website, which apparently went up June 26, while looking for something else. There has been nothing about it in the media that I’ve seen.

And guess who were “invited specialists” at this meeting of “members-only,” called “to discuss internal matters crucial for the future functioning and capacity of the group”?

Three “climate scientists“!

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Spring/summer sea ice bonanza for polar bears – conditions excellent again for 2014

Again this year – contrary to predictions – there has been no early breakup of the sea ice on Hudson Bay and even though it’s the height of summer, there is plenty of ice throughout the Arctic to act as a feeding platform for polar bears. This makes it unlikely there will be a longer-than-average summer fast for polar bears again this year.

Figure 1. NSIDC MASIE map for June 21, 2014.

Figure 1. NSIDC MASIE map for June 21, 2014.

Sea ice maps around the Arctic for June 21 (and June 24, for Hudson Bay) reviewed and discussed below in relation to polar bear habitat — have a look.

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Center for Biological Diversity provides a public disservice on polar bear status

Media agency Aljazeera gave free advertizing the other day (June 16, 2014, “New TV ads focus on plight of polar bears in warming world, by Renee Lewis) to the Center for Biological Diversity’s TV fear-mongering campaign about polar bears.

USFWS photo

USFWS photo

With unmitigated gall, it’s being billed as a “public service announcement.”
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My interview with Benny Peiser about polar bears, evolution and Arctic controversies

While I was in London, ahead of my House of Lords lecture on June 11, 2014 (“Healthy Polar Bears, Less Than Healthy Science)*, I had a chat with Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

Healthy Polar Bears Less Than Healthy Science GWPF interview screencap June 11 2014

Have a listen here: An Interview with Dr Susan Crockford on polar bears, evolution and Arctic controversies.

I’ve been traveling for a month but I am finally home — tired and jet-lagged after a journey that took me two-thirds of the way around the world and back. More on my experiences as my energy for blogging returns.

*I shouldn’t have to point this out but I will: I was not paid for this lecture, nor for the airfare to London (I was passing through town anyway). As the timing of the lecture required an overnight stay, GWPF did pick up the tab for a hotel room and dinner, as hosting organizations for such events do as a matter of course.

Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea – May 2014 map and USGS video footage

Here is the May 2014 follow-up to my post on the July 2013 track map for female polar bears being followed by satellite in the Beaufort Sea by the US Geological Survey (USGS) – “Ten out of ten polar bears being tracked this summer in the Beaufort Sea are on the ice.”

See that post for methods and other background on this topic, and some track maps from 2012 (also available at the USGS website here).

The USGS track map May 2014 is copied below (Fig. 1).

Compare this to April’s map (Fig. 2) – the 24 bears from April are down to 20 and the bears are spreading out a bit from the area on the central Alaskan coast where they were originally tagged. Fifteen of these bears have satellite collar transmitters [and therefore are females] and 5 of these bears have glue-on satellite transmitters [either males or subadult animals].

Some comments on the polar bear video cam footage released June 6 by USGS and stories on it run by the media follow.

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Activists pressure tactics to force Canada to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ have failed

The Center for Biological Diversity has failed in its bid to use NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) to pressure Canada to list polar bears as a species ‘threatened’ with extinction — wrapping up a story I wrote about twice last year (here and here).

Chukchi male 1240 lbs labeled Durner 2008

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Earth to Newsweek: polar bear populations have not been on the decline since 2008

A recent Newsweek story about the US Navy having no “rules of engagement” to deal with polar bear encounters leads with alarmist misinformation.

Photo credit Cmdr. Christy Hagen/U.S. Navy

Photo credit Cmdr. Christy Hagen/U.S. Navy

Author Max Strasser (April 30, 2013), in his recent article in Newsweek (As the World Warms, Navy Strategists Plan for an Arctic Rush”) [h/t D. V]

Approximately 25,000 polar bears live in and around the Arctic Circle. Climate change has put the majestic ursines, a longtime favorite of children’s books and Christmas cards, in peril. In 2008, the United States listed them as a “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act, and populations have been on the decline since then.”

Sigh. Not so Max, totally not so.

Global polar bear numbers have been stable for the last 30 years, as the graphs below show. The proposed ‘threat’ to polar bears is a future decline in sea ice predicted by computer models. The future, Max, is not now.

Polar bear populations are currently doing very well (see my post on the most recent status update report here). On top of that, note that the bears are well distributed throughout available Arctic habitat — one of the accepted hallmarks of a healthy species.

Figure 1. Upper graph uses totals reported in PBSG status tables, with min/max; Lower graph uses the same figures, but adds back in the so-called "inaccurate" estimates dropped 2005-2013. The 1960 figure * is a ballpark estimate. See previous post here.

Figure 1. Upper graph uses totals reported in PBSG status tables, with min/max; Lower graph uses the same figures, but adds back in the so-called “inaccurate” estimates dropped 2005-2013. The 1960 figure * is a ballpark estimate.
See previous post here.

OK, with that error corrected, back to the point of the Newsweek story…

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