Monthly Archives: December 2013

Biggest PBS stories of 2013 involved polar bear experts fudging data

The two top posts I published this year had one thing in common – they exposed polar bear researchers dodging full disclosure of scientific information in a way that outraged a lot of people. These two posts still draw a regular crowd of readers.

#1. “Global population of polar bears has increased by 2,650-5,700 since 2001” (published July 15, 2013) – 8,786 views as of December 30.

#2. “Ian Stirling’s latest howler: the polar bear who died of climate change” (August 7, 2013) – 7,872 views as of December 30.

[Note that #3 was the summary essay, “Ten good reasons not to worry about polar bears” (February 26, 2013), at 5,491 views. Dr. Matt Ridley wrote a foreword introducing that essay (“We should be listening to Susan Crockford”) that appeared in Canada’s Financial Post]

On this last day of the year, I thought I’d make an attempt to put these results into a wider perspective.

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Another unsupported claim of starving polar bears in Western Hudson Bay

This time it was Steven Amstrup of Polar Bears International (PBI), via a radio interview on Saturday December 28 “A Scientist’s New Job: Keeping The Polar Bears’ Plight Public.

Amstrup – co-author of the models that predict the extinction of polar bears by the end of this century – had this to say about the polar bear situation in Hudson Bay:

This year, the ice was frozen longer, so he says the bears seem to be in pretty good shape.

“But over the last two or three years, my impression has been, ‘Man, there’s a lot of skinny bears out here.’ “

On average, the sea ice in the Hudson Bay is frozen about a month less per year than it was 30 years ago. Amstrup says bears don’t eat much on land, so they lose about 2 pounds of body fat every day they’re off the ice.

“They’re 60 pounds lighter now than they might have been at this time of year 30 years ago,” he says.” [my bold]

For the last two or three years Amstrup has been seeing “a lot of skinny bears” but hasn’t taken a single photograph that he’s offered for publication or posted at PBI? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it – where are the photos of all the starving bears these guys keep talking about?

Here is a picture of a polar bear that was spending the summer on the shore of Western Hudson Bay 30 years ago, taken in July [bears were on the shore in July this year as well]. Continue reading

Christmas collage

Warmest regards and heartfelt thanks for your support over the last year. Have a wonderful holiday.


Christmas collage 2013 PolarBearScience

Polar bear winter: a spectacular Northern Lights video from Finland

polar bear aurora_borealis_3-t2 freeWith the winter darkness in the Arctic comes the splendor of the Northern Lights — Aurora Borealis.

Yesterday, a short video clip of photographer Thomas Kast’s time-lapse Northern Lights video “Aurora – Queen of the Night” was posted at Alaska Dispatch, Time-lapse images show northern lights over Finland. There are no polar bears in the film but it is evocative of Arctic landscapes this time of year — when only the Northern Lights and the moon brighten the sky: Continue reading

Polar bear habitat update, December – still like 2009

From the end of October to mid-December, there has been a rapid expansion of polar bear habitat.

This month, I’ve constructed two all-in-one images that show the progressive growth of the ice relative to some critical polar bear onshore summer refuge areas and denning territory. I’ve also included a map that compares 2013 to 2009 at 18 December with the average for the 1980s, and one that shows ice thickness.
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Zoos use myth of disappearing polar bears to breed them in captivity

Ironically, just as I was about to remind readers that we are entering the peak period of polar bear births around the Arctic (see previous post, “December is polar bear nativity month”), I came across an article about breeding polar bears in captivity — getting the bears to give birth in zoos.

Hudson the polar bear cub moved in January 2013 from the Toronto Zoo, where he was hand-raised after being rejected by his mother, to the Assiniboine Park Zoo, Winnipeg. The Assiniboine Park Zoo were also the recent recipients of a cub orphaned when its mother was shot in the aftermath of a polar bear attack in Churchill.

Hudson the polar bear cub is a zoo-born polar bear. He moved in January 2013 from the Toronto Zoo, where he was hand-raised after being rejected by his mother, to the Assiniboine Park Zoo, Winnipeg. The Assiniboine Park Zoo were also the recent recipients of a cub orphaned when its mother was shot after a polar bear attack in Churchill. Photo from Toronto Zoo.

The newspaper article I saw was all about how technically difficult the generation of polar bear cubs has been for the Toronto Zoo (Canada) but it was the premise for the breeding program itself that caught my attention: to save them from extinction.

The zoo is not waiting until the bears are down to the last few hundred (or even thousands) – no, the zoo is starting now, while polar bears are as plentiful as they have been in the last 40 years, to prepare for their demise.
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Kaktovik polar bear photos, again no “starving” bears

A Southern Beaufort female with cubs, from the fall of 2007. Note how fat they all are.

A Southern Beaufort female with cubs, from the fall of 2007.
Note the non-starving condition.

Twenty-one amazing photos of polar bears feasting on the remains of a bowhead whale carcass outside of Kaktovik, Alaska, taken by wildlife photographer Michal Tyl, have been posted by the UK Daily Mail (December 12, 2013): Now that’s what you call a spare rib! Pack of bloody-faced polar bears spend day and night stripping a beached whale to its bones.”  Have a look and see if you can spot any “starving” bears! 

What you will see is the relative size of the bears: notice how much larger males are than females, how small cubs-of-the-year are relative to big males. Oh, and notice all the big fat polar bear butts. I can’t include any of the photos here because of copyright rules (the one above is from 2007) but I have included a map showing the location of Kaktovik, a quote from the article, and a link to my previous post on Kaktovik bears, which has a wealth of background information. Continue reading

Ancient polar bear skulls looted from Bering Sea graves to be returned

A different kind of polar bear news story caught my eye this morning: “Funerary polar bear skulls may be returned to St. Lawrence Island.”

St. Lawrence Island, Alaska lies just south of the Bering Strait (see map below). It has strong historical ties to Russia but lies within US territory; it also lies within the “Chukchi Sea” polar bear subpopulation region.

St Lawrence island wikipedia marked

The story I found talks of “hundreds of polar bear bones, mostly skulls” that had been excavated from ancient human graves on St. Lawrence Island between 1930 and 1960. Hundreds!

These polar bear skulls and other bones had been stored separately from the carved ivory artifacts and other goodies plundered removed from graves (a formerly common practice). The museum in New York had only recently found them in storage and was preparing to return them, as the law now stipulates.

St. Lawrence Island is an important region for understanding the development of Inuit culture and the history of the Arctic. I could tell you a story about that (based on my peer-reviewed published papers) but I’ll save it for another long winter’s night.

However, my knowledge of the region meant I found the short online summary frustratingly devoid of detail, so I went a’Googling and found that a total of 376 polar bear skulls were involved. Worth the effort, I think – have a look.

[Update evening of December 12, 2013 – I’ve been mulling over in my mind all day whether using the word “looting” in my title (and in the text above, “plundered”) was warranted and decided in the end that it was perhaps not quite fair. To be sure, looting of graves and midden sites has occurred on a massive scale on St. Lawrence Island but Dr. Geist was doing archaeology as it was legally practiced in those days, and he did, on one occasion at least (see below), ask permission of relatives to remove items. Still, the people of St. Lawrence Island may well perceive all of the disturbance of their ancestors graves to be looting or plundering. So, I changed the “plundered” in the text to “removed” but left the title as I wrote it — as a reminder for readers to think about whether or not calling these actions “looting” is unfair.]
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Furor over a tweet from the Moscow polar bear forum

The ousting of WWF and their cohorts from meetings to which they had initially been invited is the real story (so far) coming out of the International Forum on Conservation of Polar Bears (December 3-6, Moscow). However, that incident never made the mainstream media, so few people will ever know it happened.

What the public did hear about was the uproar over a tweet.

On the last day of the meeting, Canada’s Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq drove home, in less than 140 characters and a photo, the point she and her contingent had been trying to make at the meeting.

Aglukkaq tweet_Dec 5 2013
A twitter storm erupted that got really nasty — and the media picked up on it. Within hours, newspapers across Canada had themselves a story.

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WWF and cohorts barred from Moscow polar bear forum

Despite the fact that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) apparently provided a significant portion of the funding for the recently concluded International Forum on Conservation of Polar Bears (December 3-6, Moscow), it appears in the end they and their NGO cohorts were prevented from having an undue amount of influence at the meeting. For that we can thank the delegates of the five Arctic nations: three cheers for common sense!

This news did not emerge until late yesterday (Friday, Dec. 6), after the meeting had concluded: no mention was made of NGOs being excluded in the press releases and stories written before then. For example, see IUCN story, Dec. 5; WWF story, Dec. 4; Times of India report, Dec. 5 and this Arctic Journal story Dec. 6. There was nothing in any of them about NGOs and journalists being barred from parts of the meeting they thought they would be allowed to attend.

Note that biologist Mitch Taylor, booted-out of the Polar Bear Specialist Group because he did not agree with the group’s position on global warming, attended as part of the Canadian contingent (see list at the end of this post), which was a bit of a surprise. However, the exclusion from the meeting of WWF and their buddies is the big news as far as I’m concerned.

[The media seems more interested in the fallout from a twitter message sent on the final day of the meeting by Canada’s Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq — more on that in my next post].

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