Communicating polar bear science requires a rational approach

My most requested public lecture, Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change, has been hugely popular with audiences in my Canadian home town of Victoria, British Columbia, and my newly-released book with the same title (based on that lecture) promises to be similarly successful. Here are some thoughts on both.

crockford_outstanding-survivors_lecture-vs-book-jan-2017

Recently (5 January 5, 2017), I gave another free lecture about polar bears to a local non-profit organization through my university’s Speakers Bureau. I’ve been doing this since 2009, although the shear volume of requests has been much higher this past year than previously. As before, my lecture was warmly received and audience members asked questions indicating they had been listening with an open mind. A colleague I spoke to expressed surprise at that outcome, given where I live.

Keep in mind that Victoria is home to litigation-prone IPCC climate scientist turned BC provincial Green Party politician Andrew Weaver (in whose riding I happen to reside) as well as one of the many targets of fake Nobel Laureate Michael Mann and his over-sensitive ego, veteran climate scientist Tim Ball (who defends the defamation lawsuit filed against him by Mann at trial in Vancouver, B.C. 20 February 2017,  an event which defender of free speech and fellow defendant against Mann’s litigious wrath, Mark Steyn,  has said he’ll be attending). And yes, in a sort of home-town science brawl, Weaver also sued Tim Ball, but that case has not yet gone to court. Victoria is also the constituency of our lone federal Green Party Member of Parliament, Elizabeth May. Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise once described Victoria as “one of the most left-leaning corners of the country.

So it is into this virtual lion’s den of anthropogenic global warming champions that I venture, several times a month, to enlighten adults, teachers, and students who have been left with the impression that there are only a few hundred starving polar bears left in the world.1

The secret to the kind of reception I receive – even in my town – is to present the relevant facts without emotional overtones and let audiences make up their own minds about what they think of the situation.

This latest lecture was not only well received but several audience members bought copies of my kid-friendly Polar Bear Facts and Myths that I had for sale (reviewed here by Kip Hansen).  One member came up afterwards to say he’d been dreading what he’d anticipated would be another polar-bears-are-doomed diatribe but was very pleased at my even-handed, scientific approach.

That’s why I decided to fashion my first fully referenced polar bear science book – and take it’s title – from my most successful public lecture. Audience responses over the years indicated to me that a simple summary would be an appealing approach. Questions from audience members over the years suggested which topics might need a more detailed explanation in the book. The lesson I learned from my lecturing experience was that my book needed a focused style, plenty of color images, and an affordable price.

Consider the table of contents for the new book, where each chapter covers only a few pages:

1. Polar bear & sea ice basics
2. Feasting/fasting life of polar bears
3. Evolution & climate change
4. Conservation & protection
5. Failure of the polar bear predictions
6. Biggest threat to polar bears
7. Summary
8. Conclusions

I expect I’ll get some negative fake reviews posted on Amazon for Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change from the self-appointed moral-high-ground troll network (as they did for Polar Bear Facts and Myths). That’s to be expected for a topic like this. Honest criticism from readers might also be generated, of course, and that’s something all writers can expect, and should welcome.

That said, the best way to counter biased or unconstructive reviews is with honest, heartfelt reviews from readers who have actually read the book. If any of you that have ordered a copy of this book but would like to see a pdf review document in order to post an immediate review, use the contact me form at “Comments/Tips.”

Both Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change and Polar Bear Facts and Myths are now available in paperback and various ebook formats, including epub and pdf. The little spin-off for preschoolers (Polar Bears Have Big Feet) – because why shouldn’t the little kids have a fear-mongering-free polar bear book with great pictures too? – is available in paperback only.

Footnote

  1. Without exception, every teacher of every school class I have spoken to in Victoria in the past year has been absolutely astonished to learn that the official global population estimate for polar bears is now 22,000-31,000, the highest estimate in 50 years. Virtually all expressed their appreciation for pointing out that simple fact. Hence, Polar Bear Facts and Myths is aimed at those misinformed children, while Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change is aimed at their teachers, parents, and other influential relatives.

Prehistoric polar bear find has elongated body type Inuit know as a ‘weasel bear’

A story that broke in Alaska newspapers a month ago made the UK press this weekend about the archaeological discovery of 1,300 year old polar bear skull that may be associated with an unusual body type known to Inuit hunters. See the Mail Online cropped headline below, full story here – and some quotes and critical background below.

Weasel bear headline with skull graphic 18 March 2017

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Several fat polar bears sighted in southern Labrador early this week

Seven polar bears came ashore this week, either passing through or exploring, in Black Tickle, Labrador. It’s not that unusual an occurrence but the take home quote sure is:

“They look really healthy … they have been eating good, these ones have.”

Lucky for them – residents in my novel – EATEN – were not so lucky.

Black Tickle polar bear visits 7 March 2017_CBC news 8 March

A bear onshore along eastern Hudson Bay late last month was also described as fat.

Quotes from the CBC News report (8 March 2017: “7 polar bears visit stormbound Black Tickle“) below.

Black-tickle-map-Labrador 2016

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Report of Hudson Bay polar bear onshore in winter is rare indeed – here’s why

Late February is still the dead of winter in the Arctic, a time when most polar bears are at their leanest and out on the sea ice trying to find seals – and that means yesterday’s report of a “very fat” polar bear onshore outside Inukjuak is unusual at face value – but my followup inquiry revealed details that make it even more startling.

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CBC North facebook entry 27 Feb 2017

At my request, CBC North reporter Priscilla Hwang reached out to the hunter involved, who is the mayor of the community. She was told the incident took place on Saturday 25 February 2017 and the very fat bear in the story was actually a young, subadult female.

Subadults are more likely to be in poorer condition than adults at any time of year, due to their lack of hunting experience and competition with adult males. So to see a young bear that’s very fat before the feeding begins is quite astonishing: it suggests that feeding opportunities out on Hudson Bay have been very good over the winter and/or this bear was a savvy hunter despite her youth.

According to the mayor’s report, this community hasn’t had a bear onshore in nearly 30 years. Polar bears in Hudson Bay travel with the retreating ice to the western and southern shores, so with some exceptions, bears usually only have access to the east coast during winter through spring.

Last winter saw an extraordinary number of reports of bears on shore in winter, most of them causing trouble (see summary here). This Inukjuak sighting is the second I’ve come across this year – the other was in Svalbard (a female with cubs). Whether this new pattern is due to more bears or lack of hunting leading to bears having less fear of people – or a bit of both – it’s not yet possible to say.

So under the circumstances, the mayor of Inukjuak’s decision to kill this bear for the protection of the community seems quite reasonable (given the extensive resources required in Svalbard to drive their problem bears away rather than kill them).

Excerpts from the CBC story, and some maps and charts, are below.
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Science behind the video Polar Bear Scare Unmasked – updated paper now available

Announcing the publication today of Version 3 2 of my paper that tests the hypothesis that polar bear population declines result from rapid declines in summer sea ice, updated with recently available data. Version 2 provides the scientific support for the information presented in the GWPF video published yesterday, “Polar Bear Scare Unmasked: The Sage of a Toppled Global Warming Icon” (copied below).

crockford-2017-version-2-title-page-graphic

[The graphic above was created by me from the title page and two figures from the paper]

Updated 1 March 2017: I added an important reference to the paper below that got overlooked in previous versions (the work of Armstrong et al. 2008, see this post), making Version 3 the latest and most up-to-date.

Crockford, S.J. 2017 V3. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 2 March 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3 Open access. https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3

Version 3, published 2 March 2017, adds an important reference; Version 2, published 28 February, incorporates additional reviewer comments and suggestions received on Version 1, as well as the updates noted above.

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Polar Bear Scare Unmasked: The Saga of a Toppled Global Warming Icon [video]

For more than ten years, we’ve endured the shrill media headlines, the hyperbole from conservation organizations, and the simplistic platitudes from scientists as summer sea ice declined dramatically while polar bear numbers rose.

Now, just in time for International Polar Bear Day, there’s a video that deconstructs the scare. It runs about 8 minutes, written and narrated by me, produced by the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

Polar Bear Scare Unmasked: The Saga of a Toppled Global Warming Icon

Update 28 February 2017 See my follow-up post for the science behind the video, featuring a new version of my sea ice/polar bear hypothesis paper, just published.

Crockford, S.J. 2017 V2. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 28 February 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v2 Open access. https://peerj.com/preprints/2737v2/ [make sure you select Version 2, noted on title page]

Thriving numbers – & two great books – are ample reason to rejoice on Polar Bear Day

Ten years of summer sea ice levels expected to kill 2/3 of the world’s polar bears by 2050 instead saw polar bear numbers grow. And this year, there are also two fabulous books about polar bears and their outstanding success story to celebrate on International Polar Bear Day (Monday 27 February 2017).

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One is suitable for kids (Polar Bear Facts & Myths) and another for adults and teens who want the details (Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change) – see the right sidebar to buy on Amazon or my author website for details on all additional formats. A couple of excerpts from them are below.

So forget turning down your thermostat in a pointless gesture to “reduce your carbon emissions and help polar bears” — as Polar Bears International advocates for Polar Bear Day. Instead, treat yourself or a friend and order a book with a rational approach to species survival.

Speaking of species survival, think about the inconsistency in how some species are treated according to the US Endangered Species Act (ESA). Humpback whale numbers recovered after decades of protection; in 2016, after the state of Alaska filed a petition to delist, most populations were officially removed from the ESA list of ‘threatened’ species.

humpback-whale-and-calf-012016-noaa

Humpback whale and calf, NOAA image.

In contrast, by 2015, polar bear numbers had also recovered despite years of low sea ice loss not predicted until 2050, yet remain officially ‘threatened’ with extinction.

polar_bear_family_at_bone_pile-kaktovik-20-april-2016

Fat bear family at Kaktovik, Alaska (Southern Beaufort), April 2016. USGS photo.

US National Marine Fisheries Service defended the delisting of humpback whales against activists who insisted human-caused global warming threatened the species, but the US Fish and Wildlife Service defends flawed polar bear prophesies.

My books lay out the polar bear success story: in simple form for younger readers and in detail for others. See the excerpts below.

crockford-pb-outstanding-survivors-2017_end-of-pg-30

Polar bears have not been driven to the brink of extinction by global warming. In fact, they are thriving (see my final conclusions on pg. 30 of Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change, above and pg. 32 of Polar Bear Facts & Myths below.

crockford-pb-facts-and-myths-2017-pg-32

If you’d like to support my efforts to bring this to everyone’s attention, please consider buying a copy or two of my books. If you’ve already done so, keep in mind that your local library might be glad to have copies donated. They also make great gifts.

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Global polar bear population larger than previous thought – almost 30,000

The results of three recently-released studies that were not included in the last IUCN Red List assessment add more than 2,050 bears (on average)1 to the official 2015 global polar bear estimate, a point you won’t likely hear next Monday (27 February) from most polar bear specialists, conservation organizations, their cheerleaders and corporate sponsors on International Polar Bear Day.

global-pb-population-size-graphic2_2017-feb-polarbearscience-corrected

This means the adjusted 2015 global estimate for polar bears should be about 28,500 (average), a significant increase over the official estimate of 26,500 (average) for 2015 — and an even larger increase over the 2005 estimate of about 22,500 (average)2, despite the dramatic loss of summer sea ice since 2007 that we hear about endlessly.

It is increasingly obvious that polar bears are thriving despite having lived through summer sea ice levels not predicted to occur until 2050 – levels of sea ice that experts said would wipe out 2/3 of the world’s polar bears (Amstrup et al. 2007; Crockford 2017 v3).

A result, I have been remiss to point out [updated 28 Feb. 2017 & included in revised Version 3 of Crockford 2017], that Drs. Kesten Green, Scott Armstrong and Willie Soon correctly concluded in 2008 was a likely outcome. In their 2008 paper that roundly criticized the USGS forecasting methods used to support placing polar bears on the US Endangered Species List (Armstrong et al. 2008:390), they concluded:

“Given the upward trend in polar bear numbers over the past few decades, a modest upward trend is likely to continue in the near future because the apparent cause of the trend (hunting restrictions) remains.”

So when you hear, “Save the polar bears, their future is grim” next week, remember that polar bears are thriving right now because those future predictions were flawed: summer sea ice is not critical habitat for polar bears. Instead of a vacuous “vanishing species” polar bear T-shirt from WWF, buy Polar Bear Facts and Myths for the kids in your life – and Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change for your home or community library. You’ll be glad you did.

Footnotes:

1. Total for all three estimate increases is 2054, or about 2050.
Barents Sea (BS) estimated at 3749 for entire region, up 42% (1109) since 2004 estimate of 2640, based on 42% Svalbard increase determined in 2015 (Norwegian Polar Institute 2015; Crockford 2017 v2) applied across the region. This is consistent with observations in 2004 that researchers found about three times (2.87) as many bears in the Russian sector than in Svalbard (Aars et al. 2009), and the stated expectation by Norwegian biologists that the population size would continue to increase despite declines in sea ice (Fauchald et al. 2014).

Baffin Bay (BB) estimate 2,826 (95% CI = 2,059-3,593) at 2013 (SWG 2016), up 752.

Kane Basin (KB) estimate 357 (95% CI: 221 – 493) at 2013 (SWG 2016), up 193.

2. USGS polar bear biologists (Amstrup et al. 2007) used a figure of 24,500 for the global population size in 2005 to support their prediction of doom at mid-century that put polar bears on the US Endangered Species List (Crockford 2017 v2). If we use that figure instead of the average of “20,000-25,000” the increase at 2015 (with the amended data) is still a remarkable 16%.

Update 26 Feb 2017. Original image replaced, without % calculation.

Update 1 March 2017. Crockford 2017 updated, Version 3 is now the most recent available.

References

Aars, J., Marques, T.A., Buckland, S.T., Andersen, M., Belikov, S., Boltunov, A., et al. 2009. Estimating the Barents Sea polar bear subpopulation. Marine Mammal Science 25:35-52.

Amstrup, S.C.,Marcot, B.G. and Douglas,D.C. 2007. Forecasting the rangewide status of polar bears at selected times in the 21st century. Administrative Report, US Geological Survey. Reston, Virginia. 8.8 MB pdf here [may no longer be available online]

Armstrong, J.S., Green, K.C. and Soon, W. 2008. Polar bear population forecasts: A public-policy forecasting audit. Interfaces 38:382–405.

Crockford, S.J. 2017 v3. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 2 March 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3 Open access. https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3

Fauchald, P., Arneberg, P., Berge, J., Gerland, S., Kovacs, K.M., Reigstad, M. and Sundet, J.H. 2014. An assessment of MOSJ – the state of the marine environment around Svalbard and Jan Mayen. Norwegian Polar Institute Report Series no. 145. Available at http://www.mosj.no/en/documents/

SWG [Scientific Working Group to the Canada-Greenland Joint Commission on Polar Bear]. 2016. Re-Assessment of the Baffin Bay and Kane Basin Polar Bear Subpopulations: Final Report to the Canada-Greenland Joint Commission on Polar Bear. +636 pp. http://www.gov.nu.ca/documents-publications/349