Former firefighter Zac Unger has been in the news quite a lot over the last few months, promoting his new book, “Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye” (see Zac’s website here, where you’ll find a list of some of the articles he’s written; the Canadian Geographic one is very good (“The truth about polar bears”) and was the one that originally caught my attention in early December 2012. One article that I’ve read is missing from that list, “Are Polar Bears Really Disappearing?” (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 8, 2013). There is a book review in the Winnipeg Free Press here (Feb. 2, 2013) and on climate scientist Judith Curry’s blog (Dec. 21, 2012), and an interview with Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente here from Feb. 23, 2013).
I’ve mentioned bits from some of these articles previously: Featured Quote #32 (Feb. 23, 2013) and in my Dec. 16, 2012 post, ‘Species-threatening’ population declines vs. polar bear declines.
In my last post, I promised a follow-up discussion on cannibalism in polar bears, as it has been promoted by polar bear biologists. I recalled a discussion of this by Unger, which I think makes a nice lead-in for my own essay, which I should have up in a few days.
Here is the money quote from Unger (with a link to the NBC interview with Amstrup and Stirling he is talking about). A lengthy excerpt from the article is below, for the context – it’s well worth a read:
[In 2008, after watching polar bear biologist Dr. Steve Amstrup give an interview on NBC News explaining “the evidence behind the decision to list the polar bear as threatened. Evidence like cannibalism.”] “Wait a second. Hadn’t Amstrup just finished telling me that the cannibalism thing was getting too much play by a bloodthirsty media?” Zac Unger, PS Magazine, Dec. 17, 2012 [2:40 min. NBC News video here]
In their summary of facts supposedly supporting the premise that global warming is already having an impact on polar bear populations (discussed previously here, here, and here), biologists Ian Stirling and Andrew Derocher (2012:2700) include a list of incidents of warm winter weather and/or “rain on snow events” that have led to the collapse of polar bear maternity dens and ringed seal birthing lairs.
Stirling and Derocher state that both polar bears and ringed seals (their primary prey) have a demonstrated
“high vulnerability …to increased mortatily resulting from warm temperatures and rain. Such rain on snow events are predicted to increase as the climate warms in the Arctic (Hansen et al. 2011).”[my bold]
However, their so-called evidence for polar bears and ringed seals having a proven vulnerability to these events comes not from scientific studies but what they admit outright are anecdotal reports.
They describe four incidents, including one case of a maternity den collapse (involving a 6 yr old, probably first-time mother and two, 3-4 week old cubs) in the southern Beaufort in 1989, apparently caused by a bit of warm weather followed by heavy snow in late January (a picture of the dead bear is included, see below, just so we don’t forget that a bear died).
IMPORTANT UPDATE March 13, 2013 Benny Peiser over at the Global Warming Policy Foundation has just posted an essay by well-known author Matt Ridley, entitled “We should be listening to Susan Crockford” which is included as a foreword to a pdf of this very post (“Ten good reasons not to worry about polar bears”), suitable for sharing. I encourage you to have a look. Susan
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of an international agreement to protect polar bears from commercial and unregulated sport hunting. The devastating decades of uncontrolled slaughter across the Arctic, including the Bering Sea, finally came to an end. And so in honor of International Polar Bear Day (Wed. February 27) – and because some activists are calling 2013 The Year of the Polar Bear – I’ve made a summary of reasons not to worry about polar bears, with links to supporting data. I hope you find it a useful resource for tuning out the cries of doom and gloom about the future of polar bears and celebrating their current success.
Posted in Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Chukchi, Derocher, good news about polar bears, heavy sea ice, Hudson Bay breakup, polar bear evolution, ringed seals, status, Stirling, summary, threatened, WWF
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
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]
As I pointed out in Featured Quote #22 (posted on Dec. 23, 2012), bearded and ringed seals have recently joined the polar bear on the American ESA’s list of animals that are “threatened” by computer-modeled predictions of Arctic sea ice declines projected 50-100 years into the future.
NOAA photos of bearded seal (top) and ringed seal (bottom). The bearded seal is one of the largest Arctic ice seal while the ringed seal is the smallest. Both are eaten by polar bears, although ringed seals are consumed most often.
The decision by NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) affects the Arctic subspecies of ringed seal (Phoca hispida hispida) as well as the Okhotsk subspecies (Phoca hispida ochotensis) (in addition to several others) and thus includes all ringed seals off Alaska’s coast in the Beaufort, Chukchi and Bering Seas. The decision also affects two particular subpopulations of bearded seal (Erignatha barbatus): the “Beringia” [Bering Sea/Chukchi] subpopulation (about half of which reside in Alaskan waters), and the subpopulation that lives in the Sea of Okhotsk. (Alaska Fisheries (NOAA) Final Decision). Continue reading
Posted in Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged advocacy, bearded seals, Bering Sea, Chukchi, Erignatha barbatus, ESA, IUCN, Phoca hispida, ringed seals, status, threatened
In 2008, polar bears in the United States were declared ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act (USFWS 2008). The IUCN (to which the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) belongs) lists the polar bear as “vulnerable” (IUCN Red List 2012). In Canada (where 60% of the world’s polar bears reside), the polar bear is listed as a ‘species of special concern’ (COSEWIC 2008:iii).
As Jonathan Adler pointed out in an excellent article that appeared on the heels of the American ESA listing decision (Adler 2008:112), “Insofar as the listing is based upon climate models, ice-melt projections, and assumptions about the effects of habitat loss on the bear’s prospects for survival in the wild, its scientific basis is quite speculative.” These are also, as I understand it, unprecedented criteria for ESA listing – no other species has been listed as endangered or threatened based on such speculation of future conditions.
So what do actual polar bear population declines look like?
The Western Hudson Bay, Canada (WHB) subpopulation is the only one that has recently declined by a statistically-significant amount. [see previous post here on the status numbers] The WHB polar bear subpopulation makes up 3-5% of the global total for the species, currently estimated at 20,000-25,000 animals.
In this post, I’ll compare the documented WHB population decline to the declines seen in a few truly endangered animals, just to put the much-bandied about numbers into some perspective. Continue reading