Longest-swimming polar bear lost less weight than if she had stayed onshore

Recent media hype over swimming polar bears in the Southern Beaufort has been quite spectacular (still going strong today at the Washington Post here) but a close look at relevant data shows the message is bogus. Researchers admit (in their methods section) they couldn’t tell if bears said to have swum “non-stop” actually hauled out for half a day or more to rest on small ice flows invisible to satellites and astonishingly, the bear getting all the media attention – who swam the longest of any bear – lost less weight than a bear would have done simply sitting on shore for the same length of time.

Washington Post_swimming polar bears_snapshot 21 April 2016

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RCMP shot fearless polar bear that came ashore on Fogo Island, Newfoundland

Just look at the polar bear on the cover of my new novel (right sidebar) and image that bear coming towards you with no intention of stopping. That’s what a Newfoundland RCMP officer faced yesterday – and he did what he had to do.

Fogo polar bear shot_CTV May 2 2016

This is the usual time for polar bear visits to northern Newfoundland but this one had a sad ending. The bear that came ashore at Deep Cove (where some of the action in my novel EATEN takes place, near the artist studio pictured in the photo shown above) on Fogo Island (map below) was killed by RCMP due to fears for public safety when it kept approaching officers even after warning shots were fired.

Maps and quotes from the 2 May CTV report below:

UPDATE 4 May 2016: more detailed (and accurate) information added below from a new CBC report – apparently, the bear was a large juvenile male, not an adult as originally reported, and was larger than initial reports indicated.

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US finally abandons unscientific bid to ban international polar bear trade

“The fight is over, for the time being. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided not to pursue an international ban on trade in polar bear products that the CITES COP17 gathering in South Africa this September.”

CITES 2017 US drops bid to ban polar bear trade_2 May 2016

From a news report at NunatsiaqOnline this morning (2 May 2016) – the only news outlet so far that has carried the news (U.S. drops bid to ban international trade in polar bear products).

You may or may not agree with the practice of sport hunting for polar bears but this move is huge.  For years, the US has been trying to bully the international community  into accepting their warped perception of Arctic species conservation (where what computer models say  might happen by 2050 trumps what is true today). Polar bear numbers have not declined due to global warming or over-hunting, and face no immediate threat of extinction.

Here is the only “announcement” made by US Fish & Wildlife, which came buried at the end of a lengthy blog post (dated 27 April 2016), which seems to indicate they have not really changed their minds but may not want to lose face by loosing again:

Regarding polar bears, though we remain concerned about the commercial use of polar bear hides as an additional threat to the species, we are not pursuing increased CITES protections at this time. We are putting our resources into working in collaboration with other polar bear range states to address climate change and mitigate its impacts on the polar bear as the overwhelming threat to the long-term future of the species.” [my bold]

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Climate Hustle knows: Ten dire predictions that have failed as global polar bear population hits 20-31k

[Reposted today from earlier this year in support of the 2 May release of the intentionally funny documentary, Climate Hustle (across the US and a few Canadian locations) because host Marc Morano knows that polar bear numbers have not declined as people have been led to believe, see the trailer below]

Climate Hustle_May 2 2016

Grim predictions of the imminent demise of polar bears – their “harsh prophetic reality” as it’s been called – have been touted since at least 2001. But such depressing prophesies have so widely missed the mark they can now be said to have failed.

While polar bears may be negatively affected by declines in sea ice sometime in the future, so far there is no convincing evidence that any unnatural harm has come to them. Indeed, global population size (described by officials as a “tentative guess“) appears to have grown slightly over this time, as the maximum estimated number was 28,370 in 1993 (Wiig and colleagues 1995; range 21,470-28,370) but rose to 31,000 in 2015 (Wiig and colleagues 2015, pdf here of 2015 IUCN Red List assessment; range 20,000-31,000).

Here are the failed predictions (in no particular order, references at the end):
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Polar bear habitat update end of April 2016: Plenty of sea ice for feeding

So, here we are near the end of the first month of the Arctic spring and there is still more ice than usual off Labrador and conditions in the Barents Sea are improving daily. The fear-mongers can blather all they like about the potential risks of bears swimming in summer – but spring is the critical season as far as sea ice is concerned for polar bears and all polar bear biologists know it. Polar bears consume 2/3 of all the food they need for the year during April-June and so far, ice conditions are looking just fine.

Cambridge Bay_we re OK_from Joe Prins

There is enough ice where there needs to be ice for polar bears to gorge themselves on new-born ringed and bearded seals – and that’s really all that matters. More ice off Labrador means more hunting ground for the Davis Strait polar bears that depend on the tens of thousands of young harp seals born this year off the Front.

Harp seal pup_DFO Newfoundland
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No evidence that long-distance swimming contributed to Beaufort Sea polar bear population crash of 2004-2006

The air is thick with desperation on the polar bear front:

“[Andrew] Derocher said the polar bear population in the Beaufort Sea has fallen more than 50 per cent in the past 10 years.

“So it is a concern that this is probably one of the factors associated with the population decline,” he said.

Derocher_CBC news 19 April 2016

As the CBC report in which this quote appears states immediately afterwards, there is no evidence for such a thing in the paper under discussion:

“The study found no direct evidence of that – all polar bears appeared to survive the swims recorded in the study.”

There is no truth to Derocher’s first statement either. Desperation – you don’t have to be a scientist to sense it. And the media wonder why people don’t trust them…

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Most Beaufort polar bears swim from ice floe to floe during breakup, study shows

swimming3_USGS

You may have seen the headlines in Canadian news outlets over the last 2 days.
“Polar bears swimming farther as sea ice recedes, study shows”

“Melting sea ice forces polar bears to swim longer, farther: study”  [“Bear biologist Andrew Derocher says the forced swims are particularly hard on mothers with young cubs”]

“Polar bears swimming longer, farther because of melting sea ice, study finds”

Oddly, none of the above news reports said where the paper was published or mentioned the name of the lead author – only University of Alberta co-author Andrew Derocher was interviewed (see the only press release I could find here, issued by the San Diego Zoo where the lead author is now employed).[update: CBC ran another story a day later that corrected these omissions]

But what did the study actually say?

Significantly, no bears died while swimming during the two lowest sea ice extent summers since 1979 and no evidence was presented that swims were “particularly hard on mothers with young cubs.” The quotes from the paper below sum it up for Beaufort Sea (BS) bears (the inclusion of Hudson Bay (HB) bears in this study seems gratuitous and potentially misleading, since only a few swam anyway – only 15 out of 59):

“….91% (91/100) of the swims in the BS occurred before the annual September minimum sea ice extent had been reached.  In the BS, 81% (29/36) of swims started and ended in pack ice…

So, despite what may be implied during media moments, Beaufort Sea polar bears were  not frantically trying to reach the sea ice from land so that they could attempt to keep feeding over the summer – most of their swimming was done during breakup in July and August from one bit of pack ice to another and they showed no evidence of harm from doing so. Map from the study and more quotes below.
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