Good news study on Chukchi polar bears is unpublished

This article from yesterday (Oct 09, 2012) caught my eye: How many polar bears live in the Arctic? by Jill Burke

Buried deep within this article (page 3, in the default format) is this statement by US Fish & Wildlife polar bear biologist Eric Regehr:

“In 2009, when the PBSG [Polar Bear Specialist Group] issued its population status reports, it listed the Chukchi Sea population, which Alaska shares with Russia, as being of unknown size, but one thought to be in decline because of anecdotal reports about possible over-harvesting in Russia. But now, newer research yet to be published has scientists reconsidering the status designations of the Chukchi population, Regehr said. It appears the bears in this area are reproducing well and maintaining good body condition.

[Indeed, the latest PBSG report (Obbard et al. 2010:63) lists the Chukchi subpopulation status as “reduced” and current trend as “declining” even though the population size is “unknown.” It also states that “The trend is believed to be declining and the status relative to historical levels is believed to be reduced based on legal/illegal harvest levels that were thought to be unsustainable. Sea ice loss is one of the highest levels in the Arctic.”]

So, it turns out that what these expert polar bear biologists “believed” to be the case – without any data to back it up – is not actually true. Even with “sea ice loss [at] one of the highest levels in the Arctic,” polar bears are doing just fine. Sort of makes you wonder what else polar bear experts “believe” to be true but actually isn’t.

However, what really popped out at me was the tossed-off comment that the results of this potentially game-changing study for US polar bears (since the Chukchi subpopulations is shared between the US and Russia) have not yet been published. Nor are we told who did the study or when, even though it is complete enough for Regehr to be discussing the results with a journalist.

Finally, some good news to report, but no peer-reviewed study to quote or examine.

Again, results are in but we are not allowed to see the data. Sound familiar? See my earlier post on the critical evidence for western Hudson Bay polar bears that is also unpublished.

Really makes me wonder how many polar bears live in the Chukchi Sea? Sounds to me like they still don’t have an estimate but I suspect when they get one, we might be surprised by how big it is.

Obbard, M.E., Theimann, G.W., Peacock, E. and DeBryn, T.D. (eds.) 2010. Polar Bears: Proceedings of the 15th meeting of the Polar Bear Specialists Group IUCN/SSC, 29 June-3 July, 2009, Copenhagen, Denmark. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge UK, IUCN.

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