Monthly Archives: February 2013

Ten good reasons not to worry about polar bears

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.

[Update September 28, 2013: See also this follow-up post “Polar bears have not been harmed by sea ice declines in summer — the evidence.”]

Polar Bear-Cubs-Canada_Wallpaper

PB  logo colouredThis 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.

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Where were the appeals to feed starving polar bears in 1974?

The so-called “policy paper” that polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher has been promoting over the last few weeks, which I commented on briefly when the press release came out, is still grabbing headlines. Online news outlets continue to run stories on this bizarre discussion of what officials might decide to do 40 years from now if global warming causes Western Hudson Bay polar bears to spend 6 months on land (Molnar et al. 2010), causing some of those polar bears to starve (see here, here, and here) – as if this is something likely to happen within the next couple of years.

But forget imagined future starvation: where was the media attention on the plight of starving polar bears back in 1974  and 1975 when polar bears were actually starving in large numbers in the eastern Beaufort Sea?

At least two of the co-authors of the paper getting all the attention – Drs. Ian Stirling and Nick Lunn – witnessed polar bears starving in the Beaufort in 1974 because of an especially cold winter and said nothing even though polar bear populations worldwide at the time were already low due to the wanton slaughter of previous decades. Did Stirling and Lunn humanely euthanize the bears they saw starving? Contact the media? [If they did, I’d like to know.] Appeal to governments to make a plan in case it happened again? Apparently not, because it did happen again, at least twice in the following two decades – with no attendant hue and cry then either. No, those Beaufort Sea bears starved to death, time and time again, without a word to the media from Ian Stirling and Nick Lunn.
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Belugas as food for hungry polar bears

Here’s a refreshing change from the litany of cries to “save the killer whales” we heard last month when a few killer whales got temporarily trapped in the ice of Hudson Bay, which I commented about at the time. A story with an entirely different tone emerged last week, with updates today, about beluga whales trapped in the ice on Hudson Bay (see maps and photos below) that came without emotional pleading. It’s a story of life in the Arctic. Continue reading

The ancient polar bear hunters of Zhokhov Island, Siberia

It’s hard to imagine ancient people successfully hunting polar bears in any numbers – armed as they were with the simplest of bone and stone weapons. Archaeological evidence supports the impression that ancient Arctic hunters rarely took polar bears – there are a few polar bear bones, but not many, in most archaeological sites across the Arctic that were occupied over the last 10,000 years (see my Annotated Map of Ancient Polar Bear Remains of the World).

There is but one exception to this pattern: Zhokhov Island in the East Siberian Sea, Russia (see Fig. 1 below). Almost four hundred polar bear bones were recovered from two of the 13 semi-subterranian houses discovered on the island, well-preserved by permafrost for over 8,200 years. It is by far the largest – and the oldest – collection of polar bear bones left by human hunters anywhere in the world and it is described in a fascinating paper published in 1996 by Vladimir Pitul’ko and Aleksey Kasparov [contact me if you’d like to see it].

Zhokhov Island is situated just above 760N latitude and so has about the same length “winter’s night” as the northern tip of Novaya Zemlya, where William Barents and his crew spent the winter of 1596/97 (see previous post here ) – about 2 months, from early November to early February. The average January temperature today in the archipelago of the New Siberian Islands is −280C to −310C.

The East Siberian Islands are included in the Laptev Sea subpopulation of polar bears, the only Russian region that contributes a count (800-1,200 bears) to the global population estimate, based on an aerial survey conducted in 1993 (see previous post here).

Figure 1. Map of the New Siberian Islands off Siberia, with tiny Zhokhov Island circled. Map from Wikipedia

Figure 1. Map of the New Siberian Islands off Siberia, with tiny Zhokhov Island circled. Map from Wikipedia

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Goldilocks in the Bering Sea: Less sea ice is bad and more ice is bad

This article from yesterday about sea ice in the Bering Sea is priceless: while we are still being told that below average ice coverage (common 10-20 years ago) is a sign of global warming that means the end of polar bears sometime in the future, it turns out that too much ice is bad, less ice is friendlier and lots of ice is hopefully something that we’ll never see again.

From the article:

After a 2012 Bering Sea snow crab season that saw unusually severe sea ice inhibit fishermen’s efforts to catch almost 89 million pounds of the shellfish, 2013 is shaping up to be much friendlier.

According to Kathleen Cole, a forecaster with the National Weather Service ice desk, this winter was unlikely to match 2012, even before it began. Despite some recent rumors of encroaching ice into the Bering Sea fishery, the situation is better than last year, she said.

“We’re just not going to have a year like last year. It’s going to be, by no means, that bad,” she said. “Last year was something that we’d never seen before, and hopefully something that we’ll never see again.”

Sea ice is still well above average in the Bering Sea this year – as it has been for 7 of the last 10 years. See the ice extent map from NSIDC from yesterday below and my previous post from December 2012: Now that Bering Sea ice cover is high again, variability is normal (note that polar bears of the Bering Sea are considered part of the “Chukchi Sea” subpopulation, which we know practically nothing about, see previous post here). Continue reading

Misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic cost advocate scientists more than US$50,000

UPDATE FEBRUARY 19, 2014The misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic is now GONE (as of January 31, 2014). A new 2013 status table is offered by the PBSG here. It has detailed text explanations and harvest information, with references, hyperlinked to each subpopulation entry (“Press the subpopulation hyperlink and more information will appear“) and may have replaced the “State of the Polar Bear” graphic that the PBSG commissioned for upwards of US$50,000, although the PBSG website says it is being “updated [A pdf copy of the 2013 colour table is here, and my commentary on it is here.] I have left the original post as is, below.

I’ve had some time to do a little digging regarding the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) State of the Polar Bear web graphic. It turns out this fancy but misleading document was designed by a US company called Periscopic (Portland, Oregon) at a cost of US$50, 000-70,000. So apparently, rather than put $70,000 towards much-needed polar bear research, the PBSG chose to use the money to tell people, in a slightly different way, that it thinks polar bears are doomed. [see UPDATE: April 1 2013]

Just to refresh your memory, last month I pointed out that this fancy summary “tool,” which sits prominently on the home page of the PBSG website, suggests that there are now 22,600-32,000 polar bears worldwide, when tallied by nation (when you add up the individual population estimates provided on each of the two maps on this web “tool” (without clicking through to more detail), you get two different numbers that have no resemblance to the “official” estimate of 20,000-25,000: the page “Nations” gives totals by country that add up to 22,600-32,000 and the numbers given on the “Subpopulations” page (when you hover your mouse over each of the 19 regions) add up to only 13,036 – a far cry from 20,000-25,000 official estimate).

A few days later, I got a response to the email I’d sent to Norwegian polar bear biologist Dag Vongraven, who said it was his job to supervise work on this summary. But, he said, he had “not yet had time to review all details in it as well as I should.” So it seems that without a careful review of the final product, the graphic was posted on the home page of the PBSG website (sometime in October 2012).

It turns out there had been a discussion at the 2009 PBSG meeting, documented in its official report (Obbard et al. 2010:11, Fig. 1 below), about their intention to hire Periscopic as part of on-going PBSG website developments supervised by Vongraven. Several PBSG members agreed this would be a good idea and offered to help by providing data. Continue reading

Andrew Derocher refuses to accept that polar bears have been saved

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]

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

Update October 20, 2013 – the Derocher et al. paper is now in print and I’ve updated the citation information below

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Why is the US pushing to ban polar bear trade? Polar bears have been saved

One of the items on the agenda at the upcoming 16th meeting of the signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Bangkok Thailand (3-14 March, 2013) is a proposal to upgrade the polar bear from Appendix II to Appendix I status – prepared by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The suggested change is based on what is claimed to be “a marked decline in the population size in the wild, which has been inferred or projected on the basis of a decrease in area of habitat and a decrease in quality of habitat.” If this proposition is adopted by CITES, it would be illegal to trade legally harvested polar bear parts of any kind.

The US tried this maneuver at the last CITES meeting in 2010 and it failed rather miserably. I see little reason to believe it will pass this year, even though the US is actively campaigning and has motivated activists worldwide to pressure other countries to vote in their favour (see “Activists push for international ban on legal trade in polar bear items” which discusses the absurdity of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) not supporting the CITES proposal because they want to keep the focus on model-predicted future “threats” of global warming, see Clark et al. 2012, abstract below).

But here’s the question I have for all the folks involved in this CITES petition and other similar proposals to upgrade the conservation status of the polar bear to a “threatened” or “endangered” level: why is all this time, money and effort going toward ever-more restrictive regulations for a species that has clearly been saved but about which we still know so little?

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The first 6 months of a new science blog: PolarBearScience Aug 2012-Jan 2013

Here’s a bit of “new blog” stats. It might be of interest later or for others starting a new blog and looking for comparisons.

I started blogging on July 26 2012, so technically my first six months ended a few days ago. But I thought I’d focus on the first 6 full months, since WordPress calculates many of its stats that way.

From Aug. 1, 2012 to Jan. 31, 2013, PolarBearScience had readers from 96 countries around the world, see map below, which was not a big surprise. Polar bear conservation is an international issue that feeds off a global fascination with polar bear life history and evolution.

Views of PolarBearScience by country, Aug. 1, 2012 to Jan. 31, 2013

Views of PolarBearScience by country, Aug. 1, 2012 to Jan. 31, 2013

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