Tag Archives: mortality events

Polar bear cannibalism and sea ice, the spring of 1976

Remember Ian Stirling’s claim that late freeze up in Western Hudson Bay in 2009 was forcing polar bears to resort to cannibalism (here and here), with gut-wrenching images and video provided for the media? Or Steve Amstrup’s claim for a similar phenomenon in the Southern Beaufort in 2004?

I pointed out that Stirling’s claim was way overblown and that Amstrup’s incidents were almost certainly the result of heavy ice in the spring (not low ice in summer), similar to the heavy ice conditions and polar bear starvation documented in the same region back in 1974-1976.

It turns out that the heavy ice conditions documented in the Eastern Beaufort in the mid-1970s had much broader effects on polar bears and ringed seals than has been appreciated.
Continue reading

Where were the appeals to feed starving polar bears in 1974?

The so-called “policy paper” that polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher has been promoting over the last few weeks, which I commented on briefly when the press release came out, is still grabbing headlines. Online news outlets continue to run stories on this bizarre discussion of what officials might decide to do 40 years from now if global warming causes Western Hudson Bay polar bears to spend 6 months on land (Molnar et al. 2010), causing some of those polar bears to starve (see here, here, and here) – as if this is something likely to happen within the next couple of years.

But forget imagined future starvation: where was the media attention on the plight of starving polar bears back in 1974  and 1975 when polar bears were actually starving in large numbers in the eastern Beaufort Sea?

At least two of the co-authors of the paper getting all the attention – Drs. Ian Stirling and Nick Lunn – witnessed polar bears starving in the Beaufort in 1974 because of an especially cold winter and said nothing even though polar bear populations worldwide at the time were already low due to the wanton slaughter of previous decades. Did Stirling and Lunn humanely euthanize the bears they saw starving? Contact the media? [If they did, I’d like to know.] Appeal to governments to make a plan in case it happened again? Apparently not, because it did happen again, at least twice in the following two decades – with no attendant hue and cry then either. No, those Beaufort Sea bears starved to death, time and time again, without a word to the media from Ian Stirling and Nick Lunn.
Continue reading

Andrew Derocher refuses to accept that polar bears have been saved

Andrew Derocher, an known polar bear advocate, has been making headlines again, this time promoting a new “policy paper” he is lead author on that has just been accepted for publication. He and his colleagues simply refuse to accept that the polar bear has been saved (population numbers have rebounded dramatically since protective legislation was introduced in 1973) and it seems all they can think of to do now is press for ever more restrictive regulations.

The timing of the release of this paper is very convenient: Fish and Wildlife biologists and polar bear activists worldwide are actively campaigning to get CITES, at their meeting next month, to make it illegal to trade in legally harvested polar bear parts (see previous post here). Canada is also under international pressure to up-list the status of the polar bear to “threatened,” see post here.

The article itself is behind a paywall (abstract and co-author list below), so it is unlikely that many people outside the choir of conservation advocate subscribers of the journal will ever read it, so Derocher is talking it up big time, with the help of his university PR department. Timely indeed. [h/t WUWT]

Update Feb 12, 2013 – I now have a copy of the Derocher et al in press paper. If anyone would like to see it, please send me a note via the “Commments-Tips” page above

Update October 20, 2013 – the Derocher et al. paper is now in print and I’ve updated the citation information below

Continue reading

The conundrum of cold winter effects in Hudson Bay

This is a follow-up on my last post regarding Beaufort Sea ringed seal declines and polar bear mortalities in cold winters. In that post, I discussed studies showing that when shorefast ice in the eastern Beaufort was thick, some polar bear females were found starving and many cubs died because newborn ringed seals (food!) were not available.

In these cold winters (months of Jan/Feb/March), the breeding-age male seals and pregnant females that would normally set up territories in the shorefast ice in preparation for the birth of pups and mating, appear to have moved offshore into the pack ice before pups were born (pups may or may not have been lost and mating may or may not have occurred).
continue reading

Cooling the polar bear spin

I’ve had quite enough of the obfuscation of facts and model-based extrapolations into the future with regards to polar bears. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who is interested in what polar bears are doing now and, as much as can be determined, get some understanding of what the biological, geological and evolutionary history of polar bears and their habitat looks like. Spare us the emotional media hype, icon-peddling and fear-mongering about the future — we’d just like some information about the bears!

Polar bears at the Stanley Park Zoo, Vancouver, taken with my first camera in the early 1970s.

I’ve been looking at the scientific literature produced by polar bear and Arctic seal biologists for some time and I’ve found it contains some rather interesting and potentially important facts that are being left out, glossed over, or misrepresented in statements and publications generated by polar bear advocates of all kinds. It’s past time for these issues to be brought to light and publicized in one easily-accessible, up-datable forum. Hence, PolarBearScience.com — a new blog in which I discuss the science of polar bears while throwing cold water on some of the spin.

continue reading

Ian Stirling’s new polar bear book: a review

This review was originally posted June 30, 2012 at my evolution blog here

It was picked up as a guest post at Hilary Ostrov’s blog “The View from Here” July 1, 2012 under the title Of polar bears, polemics and climate warming

THE ORIGINAL REVIEW, RE-POSTED BELOW WITH MY EMPHASIS, HAS AN UPDATE ADDED JULY 26 2012, FOUND BELOW THE REFERENCE LIST

I recently came across a review of Ian Stirling’s latest book Polar Bears: The Natural History of a Threatened Species (2011, Fitzhenry & Whiteside) in the March 2012 issue of the journal Arctic, written by Arctic biologist Steven Ferguson. What is remarkable about Ferguson’s review is not what he says about the book but what he does not: lavish praise for Stirling’s polar bear stories but barely a mention of the book’s dismal predictions for the future. To be fair, all of the photographs in this book are outstanding (some are truly stunning) and the polar bear stories and life history information make for a fascinating read.

However, in reality this is not just a book about polar bears but a polemic discussion about the future of Arctic sea ice. Readers of Ferguson’s review might be surprised to find that there is an entire chapter dedicated to “climate warming” (“the game changer in polar bear conservation” according to Stirling). The climate warming chapter is as eye-catching in its own way as the rest of the book: who could miss the enormous, scary-looking graph predicting summer sea ice declining to zero within the next 90 years (described as a “NSIDC & NASA sea ice decay projection,” taken from Stroeve et al. 2007)? Or the two large photos, from different angles, of a bear that died in 1989 when its winter den collapsed? Oddly, such in-your-face photos and graphics seem not to have impressed Ferguson enough to warrant more than a few words in a list of topics covered (“models of future Arctic change”).

In contrast to Ferguson’s benign and somewhat fawning overview, my impression of the book was quite different.
continue reading