In an update to an earlier story from last month about a male polar bear spotted near Kaktovik with a tight satellite radio collar, a Russian biologist has voiced some some serious criticisms of the use of these devises.
In another news outlet, Andrew Derocher has finally admitted publicly that the Kaktovik bear with the tight collar is a male and is”likely his” (Global News, 23 November 2015; “Is this polar bear really being choked by a research collar?”). The male bear appears to have been fitted with a collar some time between 2007 and 2011. The collar should have fallen off by now but hasn’t. Derocher suggested maybe the collar isn’t really too tight and the blood might not belong to the bear. And that if the bear really wanted the collar off, he “…will be able to remove it himself.”
The criticisms of the use of collars are well worth reading.
UPDATE 25 November 2015: Another CBC report, not much more useful information except confirmation this is a male bear.
As I reported Thursday, the IUCN announcement of a new Red List assessment for polar bear got the usual overwrought attention from international media outlets. However, not one of these contained a quote from a polar bear biologist.
Steven Amstrup, science spokesperson for activist conservation organization Polar Bears International, has so far had nothing to say to the media. Yet, Amstrup was a co-author of the IUCN Red List report. Not until late in the day following the release of the report did his his organization’s website post a short, bland news report (“Climate Change Still Primary Threat to Polar Bears”).
Similarly, Ian Stirling, Andrew Derocher, Nicholas Lunn (also a co-author of the IUCN Red List report), and former WWF employee Geoff York – who are usual go-to guys for polar-bears-are-all-going-to-die media frenzies – have so far been silent and invisible on this issue.
In addition, while the IUCN press release [backup here: 2015 IUCN Red List press release_Nov 19 2015] included a quote from IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) chairman Dag Vongraven, as of this morning (21 November, PST), the website of the PBSG contains no mention of this decision – no item in the “News” category and, more importantly, no update of the status table or global estimates to reflect the changes contained in the report (even though they obviously knew it was coming months ago: the report was submitted to the IUCN Red List 27 August 2015).
In my opinion, this silence says it all: polar bear specialists know this assessment is a severe de facto critique of their 2008 assessment (as well as Amstrup’s predictive models) and it’s a big step backwards for their conservation activism. I expect they are silent because they are royally pissed off.
However, this assessment is good news because finally, some standards of scientific rigor have been applied to polar bear predictive models – even though the PBSG were still been allowed to pretend that summer sea ice coverage is critical to polar bear health and survival (Crockford 2015). Continue reading
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged Amstrup, climate change, conservation, Derocher, extinction, global warming, good news, IUCN, Lunn, polar bear, Polar Bear Specialist Group, predictions, Red list, sea ice, Standards, status, Stirling, Vongraven, vulnerable
Recent accounts of an encounter with a curious polar bear female and her two older cubs in the Beaufort Sea on 16 September give contradictory details about the position of sea ice at the time. The same researcher told one reporter that the ship was 240 km from land, another that it was 240 km from the sea ice, and in another account (that he wrote himself), said the ship had been far from land and sea ice.
University of Victoria (Canada) chemical oceanographer Jay Cullen said on the expedition web site:
“After arriving on station and beginning work the crew noticed three polar bears in the water together which swam around to the ship when our water sampling system was nearly 3500 meters below the surface. The ship was located far from sea ice and land. Indeed, Arctic sea ice extent was the fourth lowest on record this year and there has been speculation that this imposes stress on polar bears which rely on the ice to hunt.” [my bold]
But the maps below show that at the time of the incident (taken from the expedition web site) and the NSIDC Masie sea ice map for 16 September 2015, the ship [the CCGS Amundsen, acting as a research vessel] was actually quite close to an isolated large patch of sea ice, although further from the edge of the main pack. A patch of sea ice plenty big enough for a polar bear to rest upon – no wonder the bears did not appear stressed.
And the polar bear biologist Cullen consulted (Dr. Andrew Derocher) implied by his response that the bear was indeed far from sea ice. Reminds me of the swimming polar bear off the Hibernia oil platform off Newfoundland March 2015, which turned out to be not far from ice at all. See what you think.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Amundsen, Beaufort Sea, body condition, curious, Derocher, Jay Cullen, open water, polar bear, sea ice, swimming
“Heavy ice in Hudson Bay derails CCGS Amundsen’s research plans” – just in from the CBC (22 July 2015, via Twitchy). Worst ice in 20 years.
[original caption for the above photo: “The CCGS Pierre Radisson escorts the oil tanker Havelstern to Iqaluit July 17. Tough ice conditions in area have delayed this summer’s annual resupply, and have now derailed the CCGS Amundsen from its carefully planned summer research program.”]
“Worst ice conditions in 20 years force change of plans to icebreaker research program“
That would be 1992 they’re talking about, the cold year that everyone blamed on the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. Unfortunately, there are no good detailed ice maps from 1992 (see previous post here). What’s the excuse this year?
CCGS Amundsen is an icebreaker that is usually released from duty to serve as an Arctic research vessel in the summer. And who’s on board? GEOTRACES 2015 Arctic Expedition out of the University of British Columbia with a plan to study (in part) global warming caused “ocean acidification.” Their short blog post shows a map without ice and not a hint they see the irony of the situation.
Here’s the ice they’re talking about (from the Canadian Ice Service), with the communities mentioned in the study marked:
Sea ice at 22 July 2015, with Inukjuak, Eastern Hudson Bay, and Iqaliuk, Baffin Island, marked. CIS map. Click to enlarge.
Posted in Sea ice habitat
Tagged Coast Guard, Davis Strait, Derocher, heavy ice, Hudson Bay, ice breakers, Inukjuak, Iqualiuk, Newfoundland, Nunavut, polar bear, science, sea ice, summer, UBC
Despite the public outcry last week over future polar bear survival, the polar-bears-are-doomed crowd can’t hide the fact that this year, spring sea ice habitat for polar bears worldwide has been excellent.
This year on 19 July, for example, Hudson Bay had greater than 150,000 square km more sea ice than there was in 2009 on that date (526.2 vs. 368.5 mkm2)(1992 was a particularly cold year and most bears left the ice as late in 2009 as they did in 1992).1 Conditions have also been excellent for pregnant females around Svalbard – Norwegian polar bear researchers recently reported a good crop of cubs this spring.
Worldwide, there was exactly the same amount of Arctic sea ice present on 18 July 2015 as there was back in 2006 (Day 199) – 8.4 mkm2. By 19 July (day 200), 2015 had more ice than 2006 (8.4 mkm2 vs. 8.3).
All this means that recent summer ice melt has not impinged on the spring feeding period that is so critically important for polar bears. So much ice left in early summer means there was lots of sea ice in the spring (April-June), even in the Southern Beaufort Sea.
The only region with sea ice coverage well below the last five years is the Chukchi Sea (see plots below, click to enlarge). So why aren’t we hearing the-sky-is-falling stories about Chukchi bears? Because biologist have already demonstrated that polar bears in the Chukchi do very well even with no summer sea ice.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Chukchi Sea, Derocher, habitat, Hudson Bay, melt ponds, polar bear, polar bear science, sea ice, Southern Beaufort, spring ice conditions, summer sea ice, Svalbard, thick spring ice, tracking polar bears, walking hibernation
There is still a lot of sea ice in Hudson Bay, Foxe Basin, Davis Strait and Baffin Bay this week – more than average for this date – with slightly less than average in the Beaufort Sea. Past behaviour of Western and Southern Hudson Bay polar bears suggests the mean date that bears come ashore for the summer this year will be later than average due to the plentiful ice available, regardless of when polar bear biologists decide that “breakup” has occurred.
Hudson Bay, with almost 50% of the bay still covered in ice, has the third highest coverage this week since 1992 (after 2009 and 2004); Davis Strait has the highest coverage since 1992; and Foxe Basin and Baffin Bay have the highest coverage since 1998. For this week, the Beaufort Sea has the second highest coverage since 2006 (after 2013), and more ice than was present in 1971, 1982, 1987, 1988 and 1998 – among others.
Published data shows that most polar bears of Western Hudson Bay traditionally come ashore in July, but this year it might be late July or even August. Have a look at the charts below.
Posted in Sea ice habitat
Tagged baffin bay, Beaufort Sea, breakup, Davis Strait, Derocher, females, Foxe Basin, Hudson Bay, ice coverage, leaving the ice, onshore, polar bear, polar bear science, sea ice, summer
I’ve got an imitator! It appears that a recently created website promoting polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher’s lab at the University of Alberta just happens to have the same title as my blog: Polar Bear Science.
Oscar Wilde said:
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”
Gosh, I’m seriously chuffed.
From the look of it, Derocher and his students would like to ride on the coattails of my online success and garner some Google-search views for themselves – check my blog stats, lower right: I’m coming up on half a million views in just under three years (since 26 July 2012).
Sadly for them, it does not appear to be working.