A part-time Arctic researcher eager for media attention suggested earlier today that the ice entrapment of narwhals in 2008 and again in 2015 at Pond Inlet (that made headlines around the world) was the result of “sudden changes in temperature” caused by climate change. This grossly misleading claim ignores the facts: ice entrapment of narwhals is an entirely natural feature of the Arctic that has been known about for hundreds of years.
“Narwhals: the ‘giant unicorn of the sea’ at risk from climate change” (CBC, 13 August 2016), a print version of a CBC Radio interview with Clint Wright that aired 8 August 2016. Wright is the general manager at the Vancouver Aquarium and apparently has “joined a team of researchers to tag and study” narwhals for several years – but does not seem to know much about the history or circumstances of natural ice entrapment.
Ice entrapment of small whales is nothing new. The first formally documented incident – in English – occurred in 1915 (Porsild 1918) and the phenomenon has probably occurred as long as there has been ice in the Arctic (millions of years).
Animals routinely become trapped in a few specific areas due to local geography: when ice that forms in the north moves south quickly, it blocks the entrances to inlets or coastal bays that still have open water. The presence of the pack ice causes nearby temperatures to drop quickly. Rapid development of ice on the bay proceeds from the mouth toward the head of the bay. Any whales present cannot escape to open water and will eventually die or be eaten.
Pond Inlet at the north end of Baffin Island is one such place but Disko Bay in western Greenland is another. In fact, Pond Inlet and Disko Bay are almost identical in geographic layout even though they lie on opposite sides of Baffin Bay, so it’s not surprising that both are locations of repeated entrapment events.
Three highly informative journal articles on the phenomenon of ice entrapment of narwhals and beluga are open access documents that reveal some fascinating details of such incidents, including polar bear predation on trapped whales. h/t T. Nelson Continue reading
Posted in History, Life History, Sea ice habitat, Uncategorized
Tagged Arctic, baffin bay, beluga, climate, climate change, Clint Wright, Disko Bay, entrapment, facts, global warming, narwhal, polar bear, Pond Inlet, predation, prey, risk, sea ice, threatened, trapped, unicorn, Vancouver Aquarium, weather, whales
Only four Alaskan polar bear females had USGS satellite collars left transmitting locations in the Beaufort Sea and all four of these bears were on the ice during July, 2016. The same was true in June and May.
Original caption: “Movements of 4 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of July, 2016. Polar bears were tagged in 2015 and 2016 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All 4 of these bears have satellite collar transmitters. Polar bear satellite telemetry data are shown with AMSR2 remotely-sensed ice coverage from 31 July, 2016.” Original here.
There looks like a lot of open water for this time of year but in terms of absolute extent there is somewhat less ice than there was in 2007 and only slightly less than 2012, according to NSIDC Masie charts. And of course, what we know is that polar bears of the Chukchi Sea and the Southern Beaufort not only survived the low ice summers of 2007 and 2012, they thrived: CS bears were in great condition and reproducing well, and BS bears were recovering from the devastating thick ice conditions of the 2004-2006. Have a look at the maps below. Continue reading
This week (Tuesday 9 August), British Columbia’s Knowledge Network is re-running the 2015 documentary about the revitalization of Fogo Island, the Newfoundland location featured in my polar bear attack thriller, EATEN. It’s called Strange and Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island and highlights the Fogo Island Inn, where our recently elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apparently spent a weekend earlier this year – gambling he could avoid a lethal encounter with a hungry polar bear when fictional others haven’t been so lucky.
The Prime Minister and his family stayed at the Fogo Island Inn over Easter (25-28 March 2016). Did Justin Trudeau know they could have been EATEN by a polar bear at that time of year? Were members of his security detail actually prepared for a polar bear attack?
Did Trudeau’s advisors do any preparatory reading? I mean, seriously: aside from reading my terrifying science-based novel (where polar bear attacks take place right outside the Fogo Island Inn where the Trudeaus were staying), Fogo (see maps below) has a recent history of polar bear visits.
Most bears come ashore on Newfoundland in late March-early April, although this year one came ashore on Fogo in late January. Another was shot in early May this year as it advanced on an RCMP officer near one of the artist’s studios on Fogo. I guess I’ll have to send a complimentary copy to Ottawa…because next time, what with polar bear numbers increasing in that region, this high-profile family might not be so lucky.
“What-if” indeed…the risks they took are mind-boggling. Continue reading
Posted in Polar bear attacks, Uncategorized
Tagged architecture, Arctic, attacks, Davis Strait, documentary, Eaten, ferry, Fogo, Fogo Island Inn, harp seals, Newfoundland, novel, polar bear, prime minister, thriller, Trudeau
Reports from Seal River, just north of Churchill at Churchillwild, at July 26 were crowing about seeing lots of bears onshore, with a veritable beehive of activity the weekend of 16/17 July:
“This has without a doubt been Churchill Wild’s most spectacular start to the summer polar bear watching season. …Bear numbers are up spectacularly this year and all are looking very fat and healthy, perhaps much to the chagrin of climate change “experts.” Our best day for the seductive white carnivores over the past week featured 21 polar bears sighted between the Lodge and our whale swim spot!
The ice pack, which was still visible a week ago [i.e, 17 July or so], has finally dissipated and pushed a large number of bears on to our coastline here at Seal River, with the end result being many very happy cameras!” [my bold]
And in Churchill proper, the Polar Bear Alert program has issued three reports so far this season (courtesy the Town of Churchill), which confirm that bears in the Polar Bear Capital of the World are also in great shape.
For the week of July 11-17, 2016:
“Bears are off the sea ice and on land. They are looking well fed and in great shape.”
See all three PBA reports below, compared to one from last year at this time (as well as a map and some ice charts).
More fat, healthy bears than last year, enough to keep the Polar Bear Alert folks hopping and tourists in the north happy. Sure doesn’t sound like a suffering population to me. Continue reading
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged body condition, breakup, Churchill, extirpation, health, onshore, polar bears, Seal River, threatened, western hudson bay
Walrus researchers from the US Geological Survey have a new report on the history of walrus haulouts in the Chukchi and Bering Seas – yet their media efforts (via press release and interviews) fail to mention the relationship between fluctuating size of walrus haulouts and fluctuating walrus population size that is evident in that history. In fact, overall population size is not mentioned at all.
Two articles came out over the weekend that announced the results of this new joint US-Russian initiative [PBS, Walrus beaching in Alaska might not be as harmful as it looks. Here’s why – 31 July 2016 and ADN, Alaska and Russia join forces to create 160-year database of walrus haulouts – 31 July 2016]
But neither articles nor the new USGS paper they are touting (Fischback et al. 2016) mention the huge summer/fall haulouts of females, calves, and juveniles that were documented in the 1970s that coincided with the huge population size at that time, which crashed in the 1980s.
Only now has the population grown (to at least 200,000) to the point that huge haulouts are again being reported – conservation has done it’s job. But when walrus numbers get too high the animals out-strip their food source and numbers plummet, as they did in the 1980s (Fay et al. 1989; Garlich-Miller et al. 2011). See my fully referenced summary paper, Crockford 2014 (On The Beach: Walrus Haulouts are Nothing New).
Here’s the concern: When (not if) a population crash happens again, will it be blamed on global warming rather than natural causes? According to the PBS article:
“The database is supposed to help federal officials with conservation, especially as more ships start sailing through the newly open waters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is determining whether walrus should be listed as a threatened species.” [my bold]
My GWPF video on the issue (The Walrus Fuss) below:
See excerpts from the USGS database below, with a map:
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat, walrus
Tagged Alaska, beaching, Bering Sea, change, Chukchi Sea, facts, Fischbach, global warming, GWPF, haul out, haulout, history, Point Lay, population size, report, St. Lawrence Island, threatened, USGS, video, walrus, Walrus Fuss
Are polar bears in decline or not? Who is to blame for the fact that there is no clear answer about how polar bears are doing? Apparently, everyone except polar bear specialists are at fault for the way polar bear issues have been handled in recent years (including me), at least according to one northern journalist.
Back in February, I wrote a rather critical review of an exclusive interview with polar bear researcher Ian Stirling that was published in the February issue of UpHere Magazine called, He speaks for the polar bears – with this lede under the title:
“No fear-mongering. No exaggeration. For Ian Stirling, it’s purely about the science.”
I said “Yeah, well – judge for yourself,” and pointed out some rather critical inaccuracies and obfuscations in Stirling’s answers that I backed up with references.
Well, the editor of that magazine, Tim Edwards, emailed me a few days later and said:
“...we wanted to try to clarify the issues and just talk hard science, no rhetoric. Lo and behold, we’re learning that even his opinion is by no means universally agreed-upon. So thank you for your criticism.”
In May, I was contacted by UpHere writer Dan Campbell, who spoke to me several times before writing this month’s article (15 July 2016), Lost in the numbers: The polar bear is getting more attention than ever, but that may be harming the animal more than helping. Have a look and decide if it clarifies any of the polar bear issues for you. Continue reading
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged advocacy, ethics, facts, interview, Inuit, Lost in the numbers, polar bear, sea ice, sound science, Stirling, threatened, traditional knowledge, UpHere
The traditional gift for a 4th anniversary is flowers, so to celebrate 4 years of blogging at PolarBearScience, I’m highlighting a CBC article from last year that featured the work of photographer Dennis Fast, who captured some fantastic images of polar bears cavorting in a field of fireweed near Churchill (see screencap below from the 2015 CBC feature, more at the DailyMail for 21 August 2015). Great photography – it deserves another look.
Hard to imagine that four years have passed! Cheers to Hilary Ostrov (who blogs at The view from here) for getting me over my initial frustrations with WordPress – without which I’d never have made it this far – and for her much-appreciated typo alerts [Hilary is still dealing with on-going health issues but we talk on the phone from time to time.]
And thanks of course to my readers, who’ve made it all worthwhile. I truly appreciate all your tips and feedback. The word is getting out, via tweets and retweets, reblogging, personal blog and Facebook discussions, as well as links back to particular posts in the comments of news articles and other internet content, and straight up media mentions. The sum of it all has brought us to this point: 495 posts, over 764,000 views, and more than 411,000 visitors. Not too shabby for a single issue science blog, eh?
I thought of adding a Tip Jar button for next year, but decided against it – instead, if you’d like to support my efforts here, you can buy my polar bear attack novel (give it as a gift if you’re not keen on this type of fiction). I’d be just as grateful. See the sidebar for the link.
But back to business – below find sea ice maps of polar bear habitat at 25 July (‘Christmas in July’), this year as well as some previous years.
Posted in Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat, Uncategorized
Tagged anniversary, blogging, Christmas in July, Churchill, Dennis Fast, facts, Hudson Bay, ice extent, media, polar bear, posts, sea ice, stats, views, visitors